|Mogae Calls for Change in Electoral
by Kondwane Chirambo and Faith Dube
Gaborone, 8 May 2000
African countries must consider adopting the Proportional Representation (PR) system of elections to enhance the inclusion of minority voices in parliament, Botswana President Festus Mogae told a regional conference here today.
Mogae, leader of Africa's longest surviving multiparty democracy, said countries on the continent should consider departing from the Westminster-type First-Past-The-Post(FPTP) electoral model for the Proportional Representation(PR) system which allows for gender equity and accomodates divergent parties.
"Proportional Representation deserves a little more attention than it has received in Africa, including Botswana. It seems to me it can be inclusive in comparison to the system we have inherited from Westminster(Britain)", he told delegates to the regional conference convened by the Swedish-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance(IDEA) with the Southern African African Development Community(SADC) Parliamentary Forum and the regional Electoral Forum.
He adds his voice to an on-going debate in the SADC region, covering 14 countries, about the merits and de-merits of the First-Past-The-Post system inherited from the United Kingdom. Nine countries in SADC use the FPTP.
Only Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia use the PR system in their legislative elections. Proportional systems conciously translate the number of votes cast for a party into seats in parliament while the FPTP is a constituency-based system in which the winner takes all.
PR also, according to experts, allows for a deliberate infusion of women in parliamentary structures. This argument is used to explain the high number of women in parliaments of South Africa and Mozambique.
SADC has set a target of 30 percent women in decision-making structures by 2005 in all its 14 member states. So far South Africa and Mozambique both stand above 28 percent while others like Lesotho and Malawi, which use FPTP, are below 10 percent.
However PR establishes no direct linkage between the electorate and individual representatives as people vote for parties. This is said to be its main weakness.
Lately the FPTP has come under much scrutiny with some experts saying the system promotes the dominance of a single party defeating the inclusiveness desired by a democracy.
The three-day conference titled "Towards Sustainable Democratic Institutions in Southern Africa", is looking at a range of regional issues, including the crisis in political parties and women participation in parliaments.
Bengt Save-Soderbergh, Secretary-General of International IDEA said lack of choice by African countries in the type of electoral system adopted after independence rendered some democracies unworkable.
"Countries inherited automatically the electoral system from their colonial master...lack of choice in electoral systems has resulted in lack of democracy...", Save-Soderbergh pointed out, backing Mogae's obervations.
Lord David Steel of Aikwood, officer of the Scottish Parliament said the creation of a European Parliament influenced some member states of the EU, such as Scotland, to use elements of proportional representation-adopted from Germany- to balance the legislature.
He noted that SADC Parliaments had a vision of a establishing a regional legislative body and added that it took Europe three decades from the formation of the European Community to form a single parliament.
Lars Kjellberetg, Counsellor at the Royal Danish Embassy in Harare, whose country is funding the Conference, said an all inclusive democratic order enabled parties to resolve their differences peacefully.
Earlier, Mogae told the gathering of representatives of political parties, governments, parliaments, civil society and electoral bodies that the 'democratic gene is out of the bottle in Southern Africa and is breeding profusely..."
Presenters here are agreed that elections in themselves do not signify democracy and that there are a lot more factors relating to democratisation that need attention, including observance of the rule of law. (IPS/SARDC)
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