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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New South African Electoral Amendment Bill

South African politics have always been party politics, and not really whether those in parliament actually deserved to be there, or were accountable to anyone but the party they belonged to.

In simple terms, the South African system is a proportional system. That means that each party gets to allocate a proportional number of members of parliament (MPs) according to the percentage of votes it garnered in an election. If there are 162 positions for MPs, and party A got 23% of the vote and party B got 53%, then party A will get to put forward 37 of its members to be MPs and party B 86. This way, the voters will never know whether these MPs are really capable of doing the job, or whether they have a sense of accountability.

In the last couple of months there have been some talk about bringing in a constituency based model whereby voters can directly vote for MPs in their constituencies, hopefully instilling a sense of accountability into those MPs that were voted in by their voters.

It seems that the talk is over and the the ball is on the roll. The Electoral Amendment Bill [PMB2–2013] has been officially introduced into parliament. The Word document containing the actual bill can be found here.

For too long MPs have ridden on the coattails of their parties and have drawn a salary while doing nothing and simply voting the party line.

Getting to the bill, as it was put forward, I am not too sure how the constituencies will work. The newly inserted section 60A (1) says:
"60A.  (1) The Commission must establish one hundred constituencies in the Republic, each constituency consisting of substantially the same number of registered voters."
So, from this line it seems that there would be 100 constituencies. On the other hand, Schedule 1A (2) is amended as follows:
"2. The seats in the National Assembly must be filled as follows: 
(a) Three hundred seats from constituencies; and
(b) One hundred seats from national lists submitted by the respective parties"
So, there will be 100 constituencies, each with 4 MPs.

Further, Schedule 1A (5) says:
"(f) A quota of votes per seat must be determined in respect of each constituency, by dividing the total number of votes cast in each constituency by four. 
(g) The result plus one, disregarding fractions, is the quota of votes per seat in respect of a particular constituency. 
(h) The number of seats to be awarded in respect of such constituency to a party must, subject to sub-item (i), be determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in favour of such party by the quota of votes for that constituency. 
(i) Where the result in the calculation referred to in sub-item (h) yields a surplus of seats not absorbed by the number awarded to a party or parties concerned, such surplus competes with similar surpluses accruing to any other party or parties contesting that constituency, and any seat or seats not awarded must be awarded to the party or parties concerned in sequence of the highest surplus, until all three seats have been awarded."
The way that I understand the concept behind this bill, is that there will be 4 MPs responsible for a constituency, each with a vote in parliament. So, how will an MP of such a constituency know who he is accountable for when important issues are voted upon in parliament? Will this not just perpetuate the current way of how MPs vote in parliament..., the party line? How will MPs actually be accountable to their constituencies if there are 4 of them per constituency?

My guess is that the person, or persons who tabled this bill, wanted to safeguard smaller parties so that they would not ultimately be left out of the democratic process, but still may get a seat in parliament by sharing the seats of a constituency. I have a problem with this scenario, as the voting public will still sit with a parliament that does what it wants whether the public agrees with it or not. All that is really happening in this scenario is that the current proportional system is simply painted with a thin veneer of a constituency based model, since no-one is ultimately responsible for a constituency.

I would prefer that there be one MP per constituency, voted in by the public, who is then ultimately responsible for his constituency and also directly accountable to his constituency. This way, when important issues arise in parliament, voters would have direct access to the person they voted for, and would be able to voice their opinions directly to this MP, who should then vote according to what the majority of the constituency stands for.

But, I assume that this process is still far off and that many debates will be fought in parliament on this issue. Also, their may still be many versions of this bill before it becomes an act. However, I will not hold my breath that this bill will ever make it through, since the ANC may not like this idea.

So, it will probably just be business as usual. At least, this bill may get the public thinking, that there is a better way.

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