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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Proportional representation - Constitution Watch 30/2013
    June 02, 2013

    Proportional Representation

    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?

    All 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?

    Proportional representation 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 268(1)(h)].

    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 156(a)].

    Advantages of 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.

    Drawbacks to 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.

    Allocation of 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 following:

    The Hare Quota Method

    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 “the quota”.
    • 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 as follows:

    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.

    The d’Hondt 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:
      /1 /2 /3 /4 /5 /6 Seats
    Party A 85 322 42 661 28 441 21 331 17 064 14 220  
    Party B 53 821 26 911 17 940 13 455 10 764 8 970  
    Party C 32 012 16 006 10 671 8 003 6 402 5 335  
    • 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:
      /1 /2 /3 /4 /5 /6 Seats
    Party A 85 322 42 661 28 441 21 331 17 064 14 220 3
    Party B 53 821 26 911 17 940 13 455 10 764 8 970 2
    Party C 32 012 16 006 10 671 8 003 6 402 5 335 1
    • 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 list.

    The Sainte Laguë method

    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.

    Which 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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