Accountability a priority
Survey suggests most voters still support the party system in South Africa
IN RESPONSE to the 2020 Constitutional Court judgment compelling Parliament to amend the Electoral Act to provide for independent candidates to stand for election to the national and provincial legislatures, the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) recently released its proposals for electoral reform in South Africa.
The main tenets of the institute’s proposal is the introduction of 66 Multi-Member Constituencies (MMCs) comprising between three and seven representatives per MMC, with a compensatory PR-list to ensure overall proportionality in the legislature.
This will ensure multiparty representation across all geographic areas. Independent candidates and parties will compete for seats within each MMC. Through the introduction of MMCs, delineated along the current district and metropolitan council boundaries, accountability, representivity and representative responsiveness will be enhanced.
To test voter’s views on amendments to the electoral system, a survey was conducted among eligible voters. To ensure representativity across all demographic groups, and to ensure a fair urban/rural split, the institute supplemented its online survey (twothirds), with face-to-face interviews – biased in favour of non-metropolitan areas (one-third).
A further adjustment was made by weighting the demographic groups to ensure that they align with their proportional share of the total population. In total, 1192 valid responses were processed, resulting in a 95% level of confidence and a 5% margin of error.
The first material finding was that the vast majority (89%) of voters support the Constitutional Court ruling that independent candidates should be allowed to stand for election to the national and provincial legislatures.
This would, however, not necessarily mean that they would discontinue voting for candidates nominated by political parties since an overwhelming majority of voters (two-thirds) indicated that they wish to retain the principle of parties being represented in the legislatures in proportion to the total number of votes received in the election.
That means that any electoral system, such as first-past-the-post, that does not allow for a compensatory list to ensure overall party proportionality in the legislature, will not fly.
A further important finding was that most voters (75%) wanted to cast their ballots in favour of local candidates that would represent their specific geographic areas. 85% of the respondents were of the view that by electing local representatives, accountable to specific constituencies, accountability would be enhanced, as those representatives would have to be more responsive to the voter.
Whether they should vote for a specific candidate or for a list of candidates nominated by a party, they were less prescriptive. In this regard, 58% of the respondents favoured voting for a specific individual, while 42% indicated that they would be happy for party prioritised candidates.
There appears to be little difference between the opinions of younger and older voters and between genders.
The starkest difference that emerged was that female voters appeared to be more trustworthy of parties in that both in terms of the importance for representatives to be accountable to specific areas and whether to vote for a specific candidate or party, they lent more towards the party than the specific candidate. That said, the general trend held.
However, while the same general trends were recorded across the various demographic groups, it appears that the minority communities were slightly stronger in favour of independent candidates standing, were very much more in favour of candidates representing specific geographic areas, and somewhat more optimistic that the introduction of local representation would lead to greater accountability.
A further surprising finding was that the white and Indian communities were less attached to the system of proportionality than their black and coloured compatriots. This despite the generally accepted view that a PR system best accommodates minority communities. Nevertheless, there was still a strong majority among these communities in support of a system that ensures proportional representation in the legislatures.
The other outlier was that the coloured community was more strongly in favour of voting for specific candidates as opposed to party prioritised candidates.
It appears that while respondents are strongly in support of the Constitutional Court ruling to allow for independent candidates to stand for election to the national and provincial legislatures, most will continue to back political parties in future elections. This is evident from their strong support for the new electoral system to retain mechanisms that will ensure that overall proportionality is reflected in the legislatures.
That said, there appears to be a strong drive to ensure that public representatives become more accountable and responsive to the voter, and therefore they are in favour of seeking a system that will ensure a closer link between the public representatives and themselves. The outcome of the survey seems to support the Inclusive Society Institute’s proposals.