Augustine Ruzindana

South African and Indian election results indicate need for change of electoral system

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Posted  Friday, May 23   2014 at  12:29

In South Africa, many observers had expected the ANC to do badly because of the many scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma and the ANC government’s failure to meet the expectations of the black people.
However, the ANC got 62.15 per cent of the total vote, just 2 per cent less the previous (2009) elections! A splinter group, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Malema, a former leader of ANC youth wing, got about 6.35 per cent of the votes.

Why did the personal conduct of President Zuma not adversely affect the ANC support? Precisely because Zuma was not a candidate, it was the ANC, the party, people were voting for and its track record of liberating the black people still earns ANC considerable dividends. The president is elected by Parliament and since Zuma is the ANC leader, he will obviously be elected.

But can he be sure of serving the presidential full term? No, he cannot as the example of former president Thabo Mbeki, who was removed mid-term, reminds us. If at any time during the next five years the ANC finds that Zuma no longer serves the interest of the party, he can be removed.

The electoral system in South Africa is a List Proportional Electoral System. There is no individual constituency or presidential candidates; voters elect parties according to their manifestoes. During an election, a party participating in the election provides a list of candidates to the Electoral Commission, for the various electoral positions available.

The party will get seats according to the proportion of votes it gets as calculated by the Electoral Commission so that in the 400-seat Parliament, the ANC will get 249 MPs and the EFF 25 MPs, which is equivalent to 62.15 per cent and 6.35 per cent respectively, of the share of the total votes cast.

All the parties that earned enough votes to get a seat in Parliament will get their share of seats in a similar manner. Thus in South Africa, there would be no problem of the four NRM rebel MPs because they would have been removed by the party which deployed them in Parliament.

Neither is there a problem of individual candidates spending huge sums of money because there are no individual constituency candidates. Proportional representation in various versions is the most prevalent electoral system in the world. It reduces friction and the use of money at candidate levels and could alleviate some of Uganda’s electoral problems.

The election in India, on the other hand, illustrates the workings of the First Past the Post Single Member constituency system. Under this system, votes do not proportionally turn into seats. It is just enough for a party to win marginally in many electoral constituencies. Thus the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won (336 with allies) a majority in Parliament and the Indian Congress (59 with allies) has been resoundingly defeated.

But the actual picture is that the BJP only won 31 per cent of the vote, (282 seats), while the Indian Congress won 19 per cent (44 seats), thus exchanging the positions of 2009 results when the Indian Congress had won with 29 per cent and the BJP 18 per cent. For example in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state, BJP won 42 per cent of the votes but this translated into 73 out of 80 seats.

This is the system we have in Uganda. Thus the NRM seats in Parliament are disproportionately much more than the votes received. A check on the women, youth, workers, western and Buganda MPs would conclude that all these groups and regions are wholly NRM. This is a result of the electoral system in place, a situation that calls for change of this obviously unfair system.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP.

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