4 March 2013

South Africa: DA Electoral Reform Bill Will Make MPs Accountable to the People

press release

Note to editors: The following statement was distributed at a press conference hosted in Parliament today by DA Leader, Helen Zille, DA Parliamentary Leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko MP and Chairperson of the DA Federal Executive, James Selfe MP. A copy of the bill can be downloaded here. The presentation can be downloaded here.

The DA will today submit an Electoral Reform Bill in Parliament to amend the Electoral Act to ensure that Members of Parliament are directly accountable to the people they represent.

This is the culmination of a process which was started last year to give effect to the long-standing DA policy to ensure that Parliament is tied more directly to constituencies across the country.

While the current list Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system has its advantages, including that it is inclusive, immune to gerrymandering, and is perceived to be fair, it does not ensure accountability over members of the National Assembly to individual voters. People have no way of voting out an MP who does not perform.

In a list PR system, there is no geographical linkage between MPs and voters. The allocation by political parties of MPs to non-existent "constituencies" is a very poor substitute, as there is not accountability to, nor mandate from, the voters in those constituencies.

This sometimes means that MPs are unable to perform constituency duties effectively since they enjoy no particular status or standing in the constituencies to which they are allocated.

There have been two previous studies into electoral reform: the Slabbert Commission (2003) and the Independent Panel of Assessment of Parliament (2009). Both of these studies found that the current system should be changed to allow for a mixed system of constituency-based representation and proportional representation.

The DA's Electoral Amendment Bill seeks to reintroduce a constituency system for the National Assembly, without sacrificing the constitutionally enshrined principle of proportionality.

The Bill contemplates the establishment of 100 three-member constituencies, each with approximately the same number of voters. The task of determining the boundaries of constituencies will rest with the Electoral Commission. This differs from the Slabbert Commission's recommendation, which suggested 69 multi-member constituencies returning between 3 and 7 members each, electing 300 MPs in total with an additional national list of 100 representatives.

The three MPs representing each constituency will be elected by a system of proportional representation within those constituencies. In practice, this means that voters will vote for the political party of their choice, and the three members who obtain the requisite quota of votes or largest surpluses will be elected as the MPs for that constituency. Three hundred members of the National Assembly will be elected in this way.

However, there is also a possibility that some parties may not have sufficient concentration in particular geographic areas to ensure equitable representation in the National Assembly. To correct this, the Bill contemplates a further 100 members of the National Assembly being elected from national lists submitted by the various parties.

Thus, once the constituency representatives have been elected, the chief electoral officer will calculate the number of seats in the National Assembly to which each party is entitled based on the proportion of total votes they obtained in the election, and will allocate to parties seats from the lists so that the overall composition of the National Assembly reflects, as closely as practical, the proportion of votes obtained by each party.

In this respect the system proposed in the Bill is not dissimilar to the way in which municipal councils are currently constituted.

The reasons for having three members from each of the 100 constituencies rather than one member from each of these constituencies are that:

• It increases the likelihood of an individual voter being able to identify with at least one of his or her elected constituency MPs; and

• it enhances the practicality of achieving the correct party proportionality in the National Assembly after the 100 members from the national list have been allocated.

The Bill also proposes amendments to the systems of special and absent votes, allowing voters who are abroad to register and to vote for both the National Assembly and the provincial legislature, and to make it possible for voters who are not in the voting district in which they are registered to vote for both the National Assembly and the provincial legislature.

The DA believes that this is an essential reform to afford more power to voters than to individual leaders of political parties. Parliament must become more relevant and responsive to the public, and this can only happen if every South African can feel a sense of ownership over their Parliament.

Electoral reform need not be a partisan matter. The DA will work with all political parties and organisations in our long-standing effort to make Parliament work better for all.

James Selfe, Chairperson of the DA Federal Executive

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