PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION: THE BIGGEST JOKE TO BE PLAYED ON THE SOUTH AFRICAN PUBLIC

2012-11-09 10:09

In the final year of LLB studies, my dissertation paper was titled, “Electoral Systems – A new vision for South Africa”. I mention this only as an attempt to give an understanding of how dear this topic is to me and give perspective of how long I have deliberated the same.

Firstly, let’s face it, proportional representation has failed our nation! It is not only the lack of a direct presidential election in South Africa that creates a bias against consensual governance. The pure proportional representation electoral system actually encourages the formation of smaller opposition parties representing class, race and economic interest groups, rather than a single strong opposition party that may have more chance of taking on the party in power.

The arrogance of power has convinced the ANC that nothing its citizens do or say will affect its dominance. It is assured that the black majority is on its side and owes it a huge debt for bringing them liberation. By continuing to ignore the protests of its citizens, the ANC is delegitimising itself. When called to order, the leadership is quick to brand those individuals as racist, counter-revolutionary forces who secretly harbour desires to return to the old dispensation. It is a pity that seemingly intelligent people have to play the race card, which destroys an otherwise intelligent argument. When someone attacks the person who makes a statement instead of the statement, it indicates a lack of confidence in their argument.

There are positive aspects to the proportional representation system, notably its inclusiveness in that every vote counts, but there are strong negatives too, especially when it comes to accountability. Members of Parliament owe their jobs to party bosses first, since they do not have to face constituencies at the next election. That does not mean opposition parties cannot form alliances to increase their power and even win enough votes to form a government.

The Democratic Alliance has made considerable inroads into the ANC’s dominance at municipal level by forming alliances in the Western Cape and elsewhere, for instance. However, it does mean the party’s national strategy of trying to persuade smaller parties to operate under its banner is probably doomed to failure. There are too many perks and not enough disincentives to remaining independent, even if there is not much hope of growing beyond a parliamentary seat or two.

The problem with this view is that it reaffirms the false notion that the ANC is omnipotent and that there can be no independent agency for progressive change outside of the ruling party.

Given the evidence in front of us, we should stop entertaining any possibility of a splinter group coming out of the womb of the ANC to rescue South Africa. Imagining a different political agency beyond the ANC will begin first as a personal journey, on which we ask hard questions about the kind of change we would like to see and how to conceive its drivers. Ultimately, it is when we start exploring new possibilities for driving change both in civil society and at the party-political level that something new will gradually emerge. This requires active engagement in individual initiatives, as part of civil society, and through political processes. We would also need to be content that building an enduring platform for change may not come through some big-bang political development, but may take gradual but consistent action in a positive direction. We need to start taking concomitant action.

I imagine 2014 is when we will start to turn. But it will be despite, not because of, the Zuma administration as it seems to become more incoherent by the day. The President faces a possible motion of no confidence from opposition parties but I believe that tactically this is probably a huge mistake as the motion will only serve to re-unite the ANC and make them close ranks against the opposition.

Instead of wasting time and effort in a motion that will almost definitely fail, our parliamentarians should be focussed of reforming our electoral system as this joke is not funny anymore.

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