No amount of champagne, cakes or booze-fuelled parties can mask the reality of the what the ANC has become.
The opposition benches in the National Assembly of Parliament. (Lulama Zenzile)
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Undeniably, voters have a far bigger say in a first-past-the-post electoral system. But in a country like ours such a system would have seen the ANC getting close to all the seats in Parliament, writes Melanie Verwoerd.
in reaction to the debate in Parliament and social media on whether MPs should
have degrees, I suggested that we should rather debate what characteristics and
values we want in our elected representatives.
(pleasantly) surprised by the amount of reaction my column on this created. One
person took the trouble of writing an article for MyNews24 and raised some
interesting questions which I think are important to investigate a bit more.
main point relates to the nature of our electoral system. Since 1994 we have had
a proportional list system on national and provincial level. This means parties
through different internal procedures compile a list of candidates to present
them in Parliament and the provincial legislatures. These lists are registered
with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and a certain number of these
individuals are then elected to Parliament or the legislatures based on the
percentage of the total vote each party gets during the election.
Visit News24 Voices for informed and expert opinions on the news
is therefore correct when stating that: "Not
a single one (MP), from whatever party was elected to their positions. They
were appointed by the party that received a certain amount of votes and therefore were entitled to
appoint a certain amount of
people to Parliament. There was no election of individuals, but parties, who
could then appoint whoever they wanted to any position, regardless of any
education, and indeed, moral or ethical standing."
The writer is also
correct that this creates a weak link in terms of direct accountability after
the elections given that members of Parliament are more likely to follow the
dictates of their political party than serving the needs of the electorate.
So the question is, why
have this political system?
We must remember that
the opposite of a proportional system is one of majoritarianism. In this system
there are usually single (or sometimes multiple) member geographical constituencies,
where those with the most votes are declared the winners.
In between these two
systems there are a number of hybrid or mixed models, like, for example, in our
local government system.
Undeniably, the voters
have a far bigger say in a first-past-the-post electoral system. They decide
who is elected and if not happy with the candidate's performance they can vote
him or her out at the next election.
The problem is that in
a country like ours a first-past-the-post system would have resulted in the ANC
getting close to all the seats in Parliament. Given our demographic and the
racially defined voting patterns it is almost impossible to see where there
would have been a constituency where the ANC would not have had a majority in
the last 25 years. This might have changed slightly in more recent years, but
the numbers would still be overwhelmingly in favour of the ANC.
This is what the
writers of the Constitution had in mind when they agreed on the current system.
In our proportional system every vote counts. In a first-past-the-post system
the winner can be declared with a majority of 1% of the total vote and thus the
other 49% of the votes are disregarded in the representation in Parliament. Not
so democratic either.
The South African
system was also designed with a low threshold for parties to secure a seat in Parliament.
This together with the proportional nature of the system is meant to ensure
that smaller parties and parties representing minorities still get
representation in Parliament.
If we had a more
direct election system we would certainly not have had any representation from
the PAC, Agang, Cope, Freedom Front Plus or any of the other smaller parties.
It is also true that
women generally do much worse in a purely constituency based system unless
parties ensure that they are put up as candidates in the safe constituencies.
This rarely happens due to internal power battles.
Of course there has
been much debate in more recent times as to whether we should have a more mixed system
at national and provincial level. This was recommended by the Van Zyl Slabbert
Commission on Electoral Reform in 2003. There has been more debate around this
issue in the governing party especially during the last few months of the Zuma era,
but in many instances arguments in favour of a change were linked more to a
frustration that the ANC did not get more of the seats.
So although our
current system has some shortcomings we need to be cautious when considering a
It is also important
to note that although the current system does not allow for direct elections of
individual candidates, voters can still make themselves heard. Of course those
who belong to a political party will have a say in their own party as to whom
they want on the lists. Those who choose not to belong to any party can through
public debate and social media at least make known what they would like to see
in their elected representatives, thus putting pressure on the parties.
We must remember that
as long as we have a democratic system voters are never powerless – unless they
choose to be.
- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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