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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Proportional representation: Exploring the unknown unknown
    Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) and Idasa
    March 03, 2013

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    "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." This well known quote from Donald Rumsfeld comes to mind when considering the provisions relating to proportional representation which appear in the proposed constitution for the country. It is apparent, at least as far as the main political parties are concerned, that issues relating to proportional representation presently fall with the group of unknown unknowns.

    The proposed constitution beguilingly provides that 60 of the 80 members of the Senate (six from each of the ten provinces, elected in such a manner as to ensure a near gender parity), 60 of the 270 members of the National Assembly (again, six from each province, all of whom must be women) and 10 persons on each Provincial Council, will be elected on the basis of proportional representation.

    Thus the proposed constitution stipulates that an Act of Parliament must provide for the conduct of elections, and in particular, for a system of proportional representation for the election of persons to the seats in the Senate, the seats reserved for women in the National Assembly and the procedure for filling vacancies in those seats.

    The election of Senators and Provincial Councillors is through a party-list system of proportional representation. This is based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in each of the provinces in the general election for Members of the National Assembly and in which male and female candidates are listed alternately, every list being headed by a female candidate. The formula used for those elected through proportional representation to the 60 seats reserved for women in National Assembly is the same, bar one important difference. While there is obviously no need for a requirement that male and female candidates are listed alternately on the party lists, the relevant provision egregiously omits any mention of party lists entirely.

    Nonetheless, the broad idea is this: suppose, merely by way of illustration, that of the total votes cast for the National Assembly seats in the constituencies lying in Masvingo Province, MDC-T garners three-sixths, ZANU PF two sixths and MDC one-sixth. Then the top three persons on the MDC-T list of candidates for the Senate will gain seats, and the top two on the ZANU PF list for the Senate and the top candidate on the MDC list for the Senate will also gain seats. A similar process would be adopted for the Provincial Councils and the National Assembly women - though in the latter instance, how the candidates are to be determined is left open in the absence of any mention of party lists.

    At first glance this seems straight forward and for this reason no further links seem to have been added to the chain of thought of the persons who negotiated the proposed constitution. However, unknown to the political parties, the devil lies in the unknown details of proportional representation which can lead to fiendish complexities.

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