The Star Late Edition

Accountabi­lity a priority

Survey suggests most voters still support the party system in South Africa

- DARYL SWANEPOEL Swanepoel is the chief executive at the Inclusive Society Institute

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.

Conclusion

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.

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