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representation - Constitution Watch 30/2013
June 02, 2013
The new constitution
introduces proportional representation for the first time as a permanent
feature of Zimbabwe’s electoral system. What is proportional
representation, how will it work in elections under the new constitution,
and what changes will have to be made to the Electoral
Act in order to hold those elections?
What is proportional
representation electoral systems – and there
are many of them – are intended to ensure that the number
of seats that a political party wins in a legislative election matches
the party’s share of the votes cast in the election. That
is not always the case with the first-past-the-post system, which
is the system that up to now has operated in Zimbabwe: first-past-the-post
works fairly well if voters have to choose between only two candidates
or parties, but if there are three or more there is often a mismatch
between the total number of votes cast for a party and the number
of seats a party wins. In national elections in Britain and the
United States [both of which have first-past-the-post systems],
established parties may win control of the legislature with support
from as little as 20 to 25 per cent of the electorate.
How will proportional
representation work under the new constitution?
will apply to the selection of three different categories of representatives
under the new constitution:
- Sixty Senators will
be elected by proportional representation, six from each of the
10 provinces [section 120(1)(a) of the new constitution].
- For the first ten
years after the new constitution comes into force, there will
be 60 seats in the National Assembly reserved for women members,
six seats for each of the 10 provinces. Candidates for these seats
will be elected by proportional representation [section 124(1)(b)].
- Each provincial council
will have 10 members elected by proportional representation [section
All these elections will
be based on the votes cast for constituency candidates [i.e. candidates
standing for election in a National Assembly constituency] in the
province concerned. So when a voter casts a vote for a particular
candidate who is standing for election in a National Assembly constituency,
that one vote will be counted in four separate elections:
- First, the election
of the constituency candidate for whom the voter actually cast
his or her vote. Constituency elections, incidentally, will be
conducted on a first-past-the-post basis as they always have been.
- Second, the vote
will count towards the election of one of the women candidates
put forward by the party whom the constituency candidate represents.
In other words, if a voter votes for a constituency candidate
who represents Party A, that vote will also go towards electing
one of the six women candidates whom Party A has listed as candidates
for election to the National Assembly in the province concerned.
- Thirdly and similarly,
the vote will count towards the election of one of the six Senators
whom the constituency candidate’s party has listed for election
to the Senate in the province.
- Finally, the vote
will count towards the election of the party’s candidates
in the provincial council election in the province.
How will these
proportional-representation elections be conducted in practice?
The new constitution leaves most of the details to be worked out
in the Electoral Act [which it calls “the Electoral Law”],
but some criteria are laid down:
- The elections to
the Senate and to provincial councils will have to be based on
a party-list system [see sections 120(2) and 268(3)]. There is
a similar requirement for the election of women members to the
National Assembly [see section 124(1)(b)].
- In the Senate and
provincial council elections, the party lists will have to list
male and female candidates alternately, and they will have to
be headed by a female candidate [sections 120(2) and 268(3)].
Obviously this will not apply to the lists of women candidates
for election to the National Assembly.
- Any vacancies that
occur in the Parliamentary seats elected by proportional representation
– i.e. Senators or the 60 women members of the National
Assembly – must be filled by persons of the same gender
and belonging to the same party as the persons who previously
held the seats [section 157(1)(d)]. There is no similar provision
for the party-list members of provincial councils, but for the
sake of consistency the same principles should apply. This means
that party lists voted for at the time of the elections must be
long enough so that future vacancies can be filled from them.
- Voting methods must
be simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent [section
the new voting system
- Simplicity: From
the voters’ point of view the new system will be fairly
easy to understand. Voters are used to the idea of harmonised
elections, and casting three separate votes in one polling-station
does not seem to have caused any great difficulty in the past.
Whether all voters will understand that their vote for a constituency
candidate will also be counted in three other elections is perhaps
more doubtful. This will need to be explained carefully by the
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] and others when they conduct
programmes of voter education. At the very least, the parties’
lists of candidates will have to be displayed prominently at every
polling station, with notices informing voters that a vote for
a party’s constituency candidate will also be a vote for
all the party’s party-list candidates.
- It will be a mixed
system: In the National Assembly, the advantages of the first-past-the-post
system will be combined with those of proportional representation.
The 210 constituency members, elected on a first-past-the-post
basis, will retain links to their local communities since they
will depend on those local communities for their election, while
the 60 women party-list members may allow smaller parties more
equitable representation in the Assembly.
- Women will be better
represented: All the party-list members of the National Assembly
will be women, so there will be at least 60 women members of the
Assembly. At least half the 60 elected Senators will be women
since the parties’ lists will have to have equal numbers
of men and women candidates and for the same reason half of the
ten elected members of each provincial council will be women.
- It will reduce the
number of by-elections: When vacancies occur in Parliament under
our present constituency-based electoral system, the vacancies
have to be filled by holding by-elections. Under the new constitution,
if a party-list member of Parliament dies or vacates his or her
seat the vacancy will be filled by appointing the next candidate
on the party’s list.
the New System:
- Lack of choice: Voters
will lose their right to choose between different candidates for
different elected bodies. For example, a voter who likes party
A’s constituency candidate for the National Assembly but
dislikes the party’s candidates for the Senate will have
to vote for those candidates willy-nilly or else forgo voting
for the constituency candidate. Put differently, parties will
present voters with “packages” of candidates who must
be voted for en bloc - and very large packages they will be, too.
- Independent candidates
will be marginalised: All the elected members of the Senate and
provincial councils will be elected on party lists, so there will
be no place for independent candidates [i.e. candidates who do
not represent a political party] on those bodies. The only forums
where independent candidates will be able to gain a seat will
be in the National Assembly and in local authority councils. And
even in the National Assembly independent candidates may find
it difficult to secure election because voters will know that
by voting for them they will be forfeiting their say in the selection
of Senators, the extra women in the National Assembly and members
of provincial councils.
- Smaller parties are
likely to be marginalised: All the methods of allocating proportional
representation seats that are described below will tend to favour
the larger parties.
- Women may be marginalised:
Paradoxically, by reserving 60 seats in the National Assembly
for women, the new constitution may marginalise women. Political
parties may tend to put forward men as candidates for the constituency
seats in the National Assembly because their women candidates
will have a greater chance of election as party-list candidates.
- Political parties
may become too powerful: A party-list system increases the power
of political parties because, by definition, the party lists are
prepared by the parties. While political parties are necessary
for the smooth running of a parliamentary system, in Zimbabwe
they have quite enough power as it is without being given more.
party-list seats after voting
Once polling is over
– i.e. once voters have cast their votes in an election –
the party-list seats will have to be allocated between the various
parties contesting the election. As already pointed out, the party-list
seats in the National Assembly, the Senate and provincial councils
will be allocated according to the votes cast for constituency candidates
within each province, and the way in which they are allocated will
be laid down in the Electoral Act. There are various methods of
allocation, of which the most appropriate ones appear to be the
The Hare Quota
This method, which was
essentially the one used in the pre-Independence election in 1979,
entails the following steps:
- The total number
of valid votes cast in a province are divided by the number of
seats which are going to be allocated [six, in the case of the
Senate and women National Assembly members, ten in the case of
the provincial council]. The result of this division is called
- Next, the total number
of votes received by each party is divided by the quota and the
results are compared. Suppose, for example that three parties
are contesting the election and the results of this division are
Party A: 2,375
Party B: 1,922
Party C: 0,821
The seats are first allocated
according to the whole numbers shown in these results, so party
A will get two seats and party B will get one. Three of the six
seats have therefore been allocated, leaving three to go.
- The remaining seats
are allocated according to the highest remainders in the results
[i.e. the amounts after the decimal point or comma]. In the above
example, party B’s remainder [,922] is the highest, so party
B gets one of the unallocated seats, party C’s remainder
[,821] is the next-highest so party C gets one of those seats,
and party A’s is next-highest, so party A gets the last
of those seats.
- As a result, in the
example party A will get a total of three seats [2 from the whole-number
calculation plus one from the highest-remainder calculation],
party B two seats [1 + 1] and party C one seat.
- The successful candidates
are then taken from the parties’ lists, starting at the
top of each list. Thus the first three of party A’s candidates
will be declared elected, the first two of party B’s and
the first candidate on party C’s list.
remainder [or highest averages] method
Under this method the
steps are as follows:
- The total number
of votes received by each party contesting the election are calculated.
Suppose there are three parties contesting the election and they
receive the following votes within a province:
Party A: 85 322
Party B: 53 821
Party C: 32 012
- Next, these totals
are divided successively by one, by two, by three and so on up
to six, which is the number of seats being contested in the election,
and the results of these divisions [the “distribution figures”]
are set out in a table as follows:
- The seats are then
allocated between the parties with the largest distribution figures.
The six largest figures are shown in bold and the number of seats
gained by each party are allocated accordingly:
- As in the Hare quota
method, the successful candidates are then taken from the parties’
lists, starting at the top of each list. Thus the first three
of party A’s candidates will be declared elected, the first
two of party B’s and the first candidate on party C’s
The Sainte Laguë
This is the same as the
d’Hondt method, except that the total votes for each party
are divided by 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 rather than by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
and 6. It gives a greater spread of seats between the contesting
parties than the d’Hondt method.
should be adopted in Zimbabwe?
The method chosen will
have to be laid down in the Electoral Law. Although all the methods
seem complex, as pointed out above, the complexity of the proportional
representation system relates to the allocations of seats after
votes have been cast. Although there has been no official announcement,
ZEC and the government seem to favour the Hare quota method, partly
because it has been used in this country already, in 1980, and partly
because it involves less computation than the other two methods.
Voters do not have to understand the intricacies as long as they
understand they are voting for a “package” but election
officials will have to be trained to form the necessary calculations.
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