Independence you can trust
26 September 2017 05:52 (South Africa)
Opinionista Yonela Diko

Is constituency electoral system better? From conscience to the people

  • Yonela Diko
    Yonela-Diko-new-photo.jpg
    Yonela Diko

    Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University.

    He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

In a country like South Africa where we disagree on everything – radical or accelerated or inclusive growth, Reserve Bank, Public Protector, race, gender, abortion, gay marriages – which constituency will emerge victorious in our envisaged representative Parliament is anyone’s guess.

The Republic Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who is caught up between what his party wants, what his constituency wants and what his conscience is telling him on the repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with a yet undefined Trumpcare has reminded me of just how complicated a constituency based system is, which some opinion makers and south Africans, including MP's, have been advocating for in South Africa to replace the party system. To add to the confusion, this is a State that Donald Trump did not win in the general elections but his Replication Senator won in elections for US Senator.

In South Africa, the polarising “vote of no confidence” that is looming against President Jacob Zuma in Parliament has made some citizens and opinion makers, including some ANC MPs, to lament the current party system which has them battling with their own “vote of no confidence” among their families and friends and communities in defence of a President who many say could not be bothered by the impact of his decisions.

Nompumelelo Sibalukhulu in her piece on Mail & Guardian in April 2015 laments our political system where we elect party instead of individuals, which she says does not give full expression to the will of the people. The system is also not designed to make it difficult for the will of the people to be usurped or subverted, she says. Even if voters feel betrayed by the conduct of a parliamentarian, they are unable to remove such a person: he or she would stay on for as long as party bosses so dictate.

Ironically she was saying this in defence of the disciplinary action faced by ANC MPs Ben Turok and Gloria Borman in 2011 for abstaining from voting for the Protection of State Information Bill. What Nompumelelo does not say is that this is but one half of the story. The other half is told honestly in countries that use the representative democracy, where elections are a means by which citizens nominate representative directly.

In his article Is Constituency Democracy Destroying The USA? Paul David Walker says: Our government has deteriorated into constituencies, which drive only for constituent gains. We have traded being a beacon for the world, to groups of people who are selfishly grabbing pieces of an ever-shrinking pie, each constituency seems to feel that their end justifies the means, resulting in spinning the truth.”

What Walker is saying is that America is engaged in a “battle of constituencies” and “we the people” is a long-lost concept that no longer holds any national value.

In a country like South Africa where we disagree on everything – radical or accelerated or inclusive growth, Reserve Bank, Public Protector, race, gender, abortion, gay marriages – which constituency will emerge victorious in our envisaged representative Parliament is anyone’s guess.

A system of individuals representing their constituencies reaches a state of paralysis very quickly which is what we are witnessing in the United States today, led by a very polarising figure such as Trump. It is not hard to imagine South Africa quickly reaching this state of paralysis with each MP fighting for its constituency in Parliament and the country collapsing unable to make any decision.

The biggest problem with the constituency system in South Africa is that it will quickly take the form of ethnic constituency election. The ANC is the only organisation that moves up and down the social spectrum, cutting across ethnic, racial and linguistic lines, and it has taken to a greater degree the skill of ANC leaders and their diversity to forge such a union, surrounded by Africa that is characterised by ethnic conflicts. Without the party uniform identity, Eastern Cape would choose a Xhosa leader, KwaZulu-Natal a Zulu Leader for Durban, Mpumalanga, Polokwane, and so on and you will have an ethnic census disguised as provincial and national elections. New problems would emerge.

What is important however is that irrespective of which system is used, the work that parliamentarians do outside Parliament, in their constituencies is what citizens consider the most important, not the bills and votes of no confidence and the television politics of holding government accountable.

In both systems, the party system and constituency system, it is a requirement for parliamentarians to work hard in their constituencies.

A survey conducted for the Global Parliamentary Report indicated that parliamentarians consider law-making to be their most important role (52.3% of respondents), followed by holding government to account (17.2%) and solving constituents’ problems (12.5%). When asked what they think citizens see as their most important role, however, the story is very different. Parliamentarians believe that, in the eyes of the citizen, solving citizens’ problems is the parliamentarian's most important role (36.4%), followed by law-making (20.3%), holding government to account (16.2%) and promoting the interests and economy of their constituency (13.1%).

This changes the debate in a huge way because the core of this debate of which system is better is based on how MPs should vote in Parliament in the main, whether they should vote according to their parties or according to their constituencies, with conscience lingering somewhere.

Parliamentarians must work hard in their communities to lift their people out of the grinding realities of their lives and listen to their concerns on various issues that affect their livelihoods.

The rest is academic. DM

  • Yonela Diko
    Yonela-Diko-new-photo.jpg
    Yonela Diko

    Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University.

    He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

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