15 February 2010

Kenya: Mixed Member Proportional System is Easily the Best

Photo: The Daily Nation
A woman goes through the harmonised Draft Constitution of Kenya.


Nairobi — The Parliamentary Select Committee proposed 80 more constituencies, reserved 47 seats for women and another 12 seats to be filled through nominations by political parties to cater for persons with disabilities and special interests.

This increase in the number of seats substantially increases the cost of running the Legislature without necessarily improving the quality of representation.

The 47 seats reserved for women constitute a mere 13 per cent women representation in the 349-strong House, and it should be done away with and only 80 extra seats retained to be filled through proportional representation to compensate women and political parties which attract many votes nationally.

This will enhance the quality of representation without necessarily increasing the number of constituencies.

Te first past the post electoral system which we have been using since independence has inherent weaknesses which could be overcome by adopting the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) representation system.

The MMP system combines the advantages of FPTP and Proportional Representation (PR) systems while attempting to overcome their weaknesses. MMP retains the best of both systems and is more responsive to long-term aspects of representation which guarantee equity and inclusivity.

Under MMP, parties which attract many votes nationally are compensated with extra seats in proportion to the number of votes garnered. Party list seats are used to compensate parties which get votes but win fewer parliamentary seats.

This ensures that parties get seats according to their electoral strength, guarantees women minimum one third representation, while persons with disabilities, minorities and marginalised groups are similarly covered by drawing from the list seats.

The Committee of Experts has alluded to elements of proportional representation in the Revised Harmonised Draft to supplement the FPTP. This can be better done under the MMP.

Under the MMP, the voter casts two votes: One for the constituency parliamentary candidate and the other one for a party of his or her choice.

Every party is required to submit a list of candidates to the Electoral Commission and if a candidate who is on the party list wins a constituency seat, he or she does not receive two seats; instead he or she is crossed off the party list and replaced with the next candidate down the list.

The party list seats are filled after constituency results have been confirmed, in which case it is possible to allocate seats to deserving groups.

When a party has more constituency seats than the number of votes entitled to it, it is allowed to keep the seats but cannot get seats from the party list.

An electoral system is a method by which votes are translated into parliamentary seats which means that if a party has 50 per cent of the vote it should get 50 per cent of the seats to underline the principle of equality of the vote.

Under proportional representation, the whole country is treated as one constituency and the number of seats that a party wins in an election is proportional to the total number of votes it garners.

For example, if a party wins 50 per cent of the total votes, it will be entitled to 50 per cent of the 80 seats and the first 40 persons on a list prepared by the party will become MPs.

In the 2007 general elections KADDU party had 189,000 out of a possible nine million cast, but it has only one MP. Assuming the entire 210 seats were being filled using PR, the party could have been allocated four elective seats. In principle, PR ensures every vote counts.

PR systems are friendly to smaller parties that garner substantial national votes. This system provides more accurate representation of parties, better representation for political and racial minorities, fewer wasted votes, higher voter turnout, better representation of women, greater likelihood of majority rule, and little opportunity for gerrymandering.

Mr Angima is a programmes officer, Centre for Multiparty Democracy-Kenya.

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