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Alexander Dowding
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Electoral reform needed

03 March 2013, 19:51
There is growing talk of electoral reform, but will it realistically happen anytime soon?

Mamphela Ramphele of Agang SA recently said that she would make electoral reform a priority of her political party platform's agenda. Agang will soon begin a campaign to gather one million signatures in order to show that there is sufficient support among South Africans to pursue this cause. Anything that deepens democracy and enhances the accountability of those who govern us is most welcome in my eyes.

In today's Sunday Independent there was a small article at the bottom of page 4 with the headline 'DA to announce bid for electoral reform'. The Democratic Alliance claims it has been vocal on the need for MPs to be more accountable to constituencies since 1994.

This could just be political grandstanding especially seeing as how the Democratic Alliance in it's current incarnation did not exist prior to 2000. DA director of communications Gavin Davis is quoted saying that "electoral reform had been a 'mainstay' of the party's policy platform for the best part of a decade and that Ramphele joining the DA in calling for it was a welcome development." 

The African National Congress is plainly opposed to the idea of electoral reform, but why? Is it because they fear the added accountability that it would give to the voters? It could certainly, to a large degree, bring to an end the era of cadre deployment and political appointees.

After an independent panel headed by the late Frederick van Zyl Slabbert presented a report to the Speaker of the National Assembly in 2009 which made serious criticisms of the current system and called on Parliament to hold a debate on the matter the ANC's reaction was that "the report did not fly".

While living in Britain I used to watch on occasion the BBC Parliament channel on Sky, which would do live broadcasts of the proceedings in the House of Commons. One thing that always stood out to me especially during Question Time was how often MPs (many of them belonging to the same party as those in government) would put forth issues and ask aggressive questions to the ministers on behalf of their constituents and get commitments that something would be done about them.

I don't think that I have ever seen an ANC minister being aggressively questioned by MPs of his/her own party! They seem to only be grilled by members of the opposition parties unless I'm very much mistaken.

The British have done a relatively good job in this area. In spite of their 'First Past the Post' system, of which I will admit that I am not a huge fan, they do have a big emphasis on people being able to make contact with their local MPs. Many possible lines of communication exist such as telephone, email, fax or letter through which constituents can air their concerns to their locally elected MPs.

The MPs indeed often have personal websites and even make themselves available at their local office bi-weekly or monthly so that constituents can meet with them in person if necessary. 

How many of us even know who our MP is, never mind had success in making contact with them?
I wouldn't be at all surprised if the answer is 'not many'.
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