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Archive for the tag “proportional representation”

Electoral reform

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been seeing and getting into quite a lot of discussions on electoral reform.

Here in South Africa our last four elections have been held under the proportional representation system, which, when it was first introduced in 1994, seemed to be a vast improvement on the “winner takes all” contituency system. Now we’ve had it long enough to see the disadvantages, and we’ve been discussing the merits of possible alternatives.

Then a friend in the UK, a retired Anglican bishop John Davies, who was in South Africa in the 1960s, raised the same question, which is also being discussed in the UK, and I’ve recently read some blog posts about it, for example Purple Words on a Grey Background: Electoral Reform. As John Davies put it:

What both of you are saying is that the difference between SA and UK is great – greater than I had realised, really; that is not to be wondered at. I still think that the principle of ‘my MP’ is so important in practice as to be non-negotiable; but in the SA process it may well be an unaffordable luxury. It would be nice to be able to say that we in UK can treasure such a principle because of our greater maturity as a democracy. But this is not a viable claim, really, in so far as only a smallish proportion of our electorate actually takes the democratic facilities seriously – if the strength of a democracy is measured by voter turn-out, we are much less credible than SA as a functioning democracy. But I think that it is a sign of a degree of maturity that there is at present a serious critique of our electoral process; and it may well be that we should move closer to the SA method, rather than assume that SA (or Egypt, for that matter) should move towards ours. At times like the present, people who function as ‘world leaders’ tend to express the hope that troublesome nations should become ‘genuine democracies’; but when it comes to spelling out exactly what that means, rhetoric has to give way to nuts and bolts – and nuts & bolts can come in very many shapes and sizes, as any mechanic knows.

The question John had posed to us was: How, in practice, do you, with the present SA system, relate to the legislature?

And my answer was that in practice, we don’t.

There are no such things as “surgeries” here, because MPs don’t have constituencies, and they represent their parties. Their reelection depends much more on their standing in their parties than on the votes of the electorate.

That is why many people are dissatisfied with the present PR system, and have been discussing possible alternatives.

I think it was the right thing to do in the first democratic election, and perhaps the second. Under a straight constituency system most of the smaller parties would have been wiped out, but I think it was important that they be represented. They represented people who had never before been represented in parliament, and they needed a platform to be able to contribute. In the first democratic election, for example, the PAC got 1% of the vote, and that gave them 4 MPs. Under a constituency system they would have had none.

In the event they turned out to be a bunch of bumbling old men who lived in the past, and perhaps few people would now care whether they were represented or not. But in 1994 it was important, and so with the other minority parties. Only those that got less than 0,25% of the vote would have no representation at all.

If we had a constituency system and a general election now, I think that ANC would take about 85-90% of the seats, with the DA and the IFP sharing the remainder between them. And I wouldn’t feel happy voting for any of them at the moment. At least PR gives me a wider choice.

The great advantage of proportional representation is that it allows minority views to be represented, but it makes MPs accountable to their parties rather than the the electorate, because it is the parties that decide who is on the list of candidates, and their relative positions on the list. This means that ordinary people don’t really relate to the legislature.

In local government we have a mixed system. There are some members of the city council elected by proportional representation, and others elected by wards, so we have two votes – one for the ward candidate, and one for the PR list of party candidates. That seems to give the advantages of both systems, and perhaps we should do that nationally as well.

One of the systems that came up in discussions was the idea of a single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. It sounded complex, and I don’t pretend to understand it, but it seemed to me that it would fall between all the stools. There would still be no concept of “My MP”.

So I think that the best system would be one that extended the local government system to national and provincial government as well, where one would vote for both a party-list candidate and a constituency candidate, perhaps with the refinement of the Alternative Vote system for the constituency candidates.

Maybe that would be the closest we could get to having our cake and eating it.

Politics: style and substance

I spent much of yesterday watching the TV, Sky News, most of it on attempts to form a government in Britain. Hung parliament. David Cameron speaks of the need for a “strong and stable” government, while Nick Clegg speaks of a “stable and good” government.

It’s a pity there Lib Dems didn’t win more seats, so they could negotiate from a position of strength. As it is, whichever way they go will actually be to their long-term detriment. Endless talking heads outside doors, speculating, speculating, speculating. I think of how different the atmosphere is from South Africa, or at least South Africa as it was in the glory days of the 1990s, where there was the African desire for inclusion, not just the Government of National Unity, which was a kind of constitutional mandate, but a real attempt to bring everyone on board, like getting Gatsha Buthelezi as Minister of Home Affairs, even though he made a total cock up of it.

There was a desire for consensus, rather than the British winner-takes-all system, which makes so many Brits uncomfortable with a hung parliament. Here only the Democratic Party refused to come to the party, and insisted on being a British-style opposition, opposing everything the government did, good or bad, as a matter of principle.

It’s all different now, of course — the ANC can’t even extend the politics of inclusion to their own party, and there are no longer any issues of principle, it’s all personalities and jockeying for position, and the media are only ever full of stories about who’s in and who’s out with not a hint of what policies they stand for. It’s all personality clashes.

In the evening it seemed that a deal between the Tories and the Lib-Dems was in sight, and Gordon Brown knew the game was up, and resigned. He made a rather touching speech outside 10 Downing Street before going to hand his resignation to the Queen. He walked off down the street with his wife and children to the car. I don’t recall any other British prime ministers leaving like that. I think most of them left almost surreptitiously, from the back door. But there is another contrast. Five years ago I thought that we in South Africa were fortunate to have Thabo Mbeki as head of government. For all his faults, he seemed preferable to Tony Blair, George Bush, or Robert Mugabe, or most of the other prime ministers or presidents in the world.

But now I think that Gordon Brown was better than Jacob Zuma, and seeing him walk down the road with his family, after saying that he was giving up his second most important job, as prime minister, but would continue the first, as husband and father, seemed to emphasise the contrast. It’s PR, of course, staged for the media, but there is some substance to it as well, and a huge contrast to Jacob Zuma’s family life.

But I only follow British politics sporadically, and from a distance. British bloggers are closer, and perhaps see more clearly. One British blogger, Tony Grist, remarked Eroticdreambattle: A good man?:

If a good man does bad things is he still a good man?

Or- to narrow things down more specifically to the career of Gordon Brown- can a person claim to be in possession of ‘a moral compass’ if he never seems to use it.

The defining characteristics of Brown’s career have been cowardice, lack of principle, corrosive ambition, sulkiness, disloyalty and double-dealing. He tacitly supported the Iraq war, encouraged the banking free for all, created a culture of paranoia around himself, persistently undermined his colleagues- including Tony Blair- and (behind closed doors) sulked and fumed and bullied. In what way are these the actions of a ‘good’ man?

I’m asking because I’ve just been reading this. Gordon Brown has failed in most things, but he’s somehow managed to sell us all on the notion that he’s a moral person- that whole son of the manse thing. Well, I beg to differ.

and a little later he elaborated

Brown comes from a very moral place- from Scottish Presbyterianism and Christian Socialism- and has betrayed almost everything he was taught and once stood for.

The young Brown would, I think, have been disgusted by the things his older self wound up doing in the pursuit and exercise of power.

But another British blogger takes a different view. Neil Clark: Farewell, Gordon Brown. You weren’t that bad:

Neil Clark: Brown should have strung the bankers up from the lamp-posts – it’s what the public wanted

He’s been called the worst Prime Minister ever – and that was by a politician from his own party. But was Gordon Brown, who announced that he was stepping down as Labour leader yesterday, really that bad?

And goes on to say Gordon Brown was not the worst prime minister ever | The First Post:

None of the candidates mooted as replacements for Brown have distinct ideological positions. You certainly couldn’t say the same about Jim Callaghan, Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Tony Crosland and Denis Healey – the six Labour candidates who set out to replace Harold Wilson when he stepped down in 1976. Back then, the policies the politicians espoused – and not their personalities, or their media image – were decisive.

But in today’s neo-liberal, globalist era, where policy parameters are set by international capital and sovereignty-impinging institutions such as the EU and the IMF, politicians have largely been reduced to mere managers. And because the difference between their policies is so small, so the emphasis has shifted on to personality.

That many regard Brown’s premiership so negatively has little to do with the man’s actual record in office, but owes a lot to the fact that ‘Gloomy Gordon’, the man famous for having the ‘worst smile in the world’, was ill-suited to the personality-based politics of today.

True, there were many things he did do wrong: signing the undemocratic Lisbon Treaty, which surrendered even more sovereignty to the EU without a referendum; his failure to renationalise the railways; and his continuation of Britain’s military involvement in Afghanistan.

As Clark points out, politics today is certainly becoming a matter of style rather than substance. But on the positive side

He was certainly a better PM than his warmongering predecessor, who took us into military conflicts which will make us a target for Islamic militants for many years to come, and John Major, who destroyed Britain’s railways. And he also comes out favourably compared to Sir Anthony Eden, who led us into the Suez fiasco and Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement of Adolf Hitler led to World War 2.

But there is one real issue, which is at the centre of the wheeling and dealing to form a government in Britain, and that is that the Lib-Dems are wedded to the idea of electoral reform, and this determines the extent to which they will support any of the other parties that wish to form a government.

The Liberal-Democrats want a system of proportional representation, which will more fairly represent the wishes of the voters. When South Africa had a constituency system only a minority of the population were allowed to vote, and even some of those who did have the vote were effectively disenfranchised because many constituencies returned unopposed candidates. Now we have proportional representation, and every vote counts.

The disadvantage, however, is that proportional representation with a list system makes members of parliament accountable to their parties rather than to the electorate. If media image counts for a great deal in British politics, it counts for very litte in South African politics. Julius Malema has had a poor media image for some time, but that counts for little. What counts is the party cabal.

As a non-Brit, my main interest in British politics is their foreign policies. The warmongering propensity of the Labour government of the past 13 years has helped to make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. Leftist socialist Brits say that the most important thing was to vote Labour for sake of the British working class, and they care a lot less about the fact that the Labour government has enthusiastically participated in the bombing of the working class in other countries. Working class solidarity and socialism that is no longer internationalist becomes National Socialism. Add to that the denial of civil liberties at home by enthusiasm for such things as 90-day detention manifested by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, with the bulk of the British media calling that “the moral high ground”, and Labour’s record is not a good one. I’m not sure that the Tories would have been any better on those issues. The Liberal Democrats at least made some effort to oppose those things, and my thought was that a hung parliament would be a good thing if it enabled the Lib-Dems to restrain the worst excesses of Tories and Labour.

But in Britain, as in South Africa, I think it is well to heed G.K. Chesterton’s wise words

Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarrelled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of Carlyle–the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments on government at all, its comment must be this — that the man should rule who does NOT think that he can rule. Carlyle’s hero may say, “I will be king”; but the Christian saint must say “Nolo episcopari.” If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it means this–that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can’t.

The crosstitutes are at it again

It’s floor-crossing season again, when South Africa abandons democracy and is ruled by a self-elected, self-serving bunch of politicians.

The worst thing about it is not the behaviour of the politicians. Politicians can be expected to be self-serving. The worst thing about it is the behaviour of our constitutional court, which has utterly failed in its duty to protect our democracy by allowing it to be destroyed in this fashion. One must seriously question the integrity of the judges of the Constiutional Court.

The Constitutional Court is supposed to evaluate legislation in the spirit of the constitution, and its fundamental principles. And one of the principles of the Constitution, one of the principles that the liberation struggle was fought for, was “the people shall govern”.

While that may be true for the first 18 months after an election, for the rest of the time the people do not govern, and South Africa is ruled by an unelected oligarchy.

As The Weekender reported, even before it began the floor-crossing window was stained with “allegations of bribery, threats of violence, and offers of sexual favours”.

The crosstitutes bring South Africa into disrepute. The Constitutional Court, by allowing crosstitution, brings South Africa into even more disrepute. Is the Constitutional Court there to protect our democracy, or to preside over a political brothel?

In a constituency system, where candidates are elected in their personal capacity, and their names appear on the ballot paper, floor-crossing is permissible, and may be judged good or bad according to circumstances. In a proportional representation system, however, where the names of candidates do not appear on the ballot paper, but are nominated on party lists, the politicians cease to represent the electorate the moment they leave the party that put them on its list.

What makes it so difficult for our Constiutional Court judges to understand this?

Goodbye democracy, it was nice knowing you

Local government elections are to be held on 1 March 2006, but it really is a bit of a farce. There is no point in voting, because no matter which party you vote for, a politician will be elected, and at the next “floor crossing window” the politicans will override your vote on the basis of which party makes them the best offer.

In 1994 we in South Africa were delivered from a race oligarchy, and got democracy — one man one vote, free and fair elections.

But it didn’t last long. Because there is a loophole in the constitution that nullifies democracy by allowing floor crossing. Now any fool can see that in a proportional representation system with closed party lists, allowing floor crossing by elected representatives takes the power from the voters and puts it in the hands of the politicians themselves, who thereafter are self-selected and self elected.

In South Africa elections are no longer a significant part of the political process. They have been replaced by a series of auctions in which the politicians get to sell their soul to the highest bidder.

Oh, elections are still held — it gives the people the illusion that we still have democracy, and especially people elsewhere in the world, who don’t realise that the real decisions are made in the auctions that follow the elections, where the politicians manipulate the process to their own personal advantage.

Some have tried to defend this, by saying that those elected need to have freedom of conscience and all that, and that is part of their human rights. But that’s nonsense. Why should the rights of the crosstitutes take precedence over the rights of the citizens? In effect, the “human rights” of 400 parliamentarians nullify the right of 40 million South Africans to choose their government. Freedom of conscience means that if a politician can no longer conscientiously support the policies of the party that put them on the list, they resign from the party and from parliament, provincial council or whatever and try again with the party they do support.

And it’s the same in local government, except for the ward candidates.

I suggest that if you vote at all, don’t vote for proportional representation candidates, but spoil your paper by writing “No crosstitutes” on it. Just vote for the ward candidates — even if they do change parties, it will at least be the person that you elected.

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