Time to Rethink the Electoral System

Posted: August 5, 2012 in Development


Dar es Salaam.General Election results usually draws a lot of interest, more so because of the “winner takes all formula” and the concern whether the outcome caters for equal representation of all people of diverse interests and classes in the society.
They bring forth questions like: Is the president-elect the face of the nation? Is the electoral fair? This is what I am going to discuss here as I propose how Tanzanians can come up with the desirable Constitution.
The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 has a provision regarding the election of the president in Article 41 (6), which states: “…any presidential candidate shall be declared duly elected president only if he has obtained majority of votes”.
The clause explains that the electoral system that the country adopted for presidential election as First Past the Post (FPTP) whereby anyone who garners the simple majority votes [Art.41 (6)] becomes the winner regardless the number of people who voted.
Observing the Tanzania electoral system of “First Past the Post”, it is possible that even if the candidate is favoured by less than 10 per cent of the total voters, he/she becomes the president regardless of the narrow or less support she/he has.
Since the union of the two sides of the United Republic of Tanzania on 26th April, 1964, it is fortunate that no winner has landed less than 50-plus of the total votes cast even after the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1992.
It is claimed that in the Kenya’s first multiparty general election of 1992 the then president, Mr Daniel Moi, won by less than 30 per cent of the total votes cast amid claims of vote rigging in his favour, therefore his legitimacy was questioned.
He only remained the president on the basis of a legal technicality, which explains Kenya’s rough transition road to multiparty politics and rigorous-cum-suspicious succession politics. All these are an outcome of an electoral system that can easily be manipulated by the powerful or incumbent.
Back in Tanzania, the 27th January, 2001 and the 2005 political disturbances in Zanzibar were caused by the distrust caused by both the politico-historical memoirs and the doubt emanating from the winner takes all (First Past The Post) electoral system.
The Mwafaka I and II did not bear fruit and the distrust came to be resolved only by the Zanzibar 2010 Constitutional Amendment that paved the way for Government of National Unity formed after the 2010 General Election.
The same electoral system has been used to define the selection and voting into office other elective posts like the “mtaa”, which is the smallest urban unit of local government which is equivalent to a village, chairperson-ship, Councillor, members of the House of Representatives and MPs, where whoever wins in an electoral district becomes the bona fide representative in the country’s lawmaking bodies.
Such an electoral system leaves room for manipulation and under-representation of some voters whose favourite candidates is “defeated” by just a few votes by the luckier candidate.
In the run-up to the 2015 elections and the current constitution review process and public opinion taking, people should suggest what electoral system they want to ensure equal representation. Why, today we have constituencies like Ubungo in Dar es Salaam with over 500,000 residents while some constituencies in Zanzibar have less than 5,000 residents, which raises the question of equality in terms of representation.
This type of electoral system can be of use if applied in electing the president where there isn’t a winner in the first round of voting. In that case, a second round or run-off is conducted; this would establish the “50 per cent plus one rule”.
The Kenya’s 2008 and Zimbabwe’s 2009 coalition governments were formed to ease tensions and the environment which allowed “the winner takes all” scenarios without runoffs or proportional sharing of power.
The nomination of women’s Special Seats MPs uses a different electoral system called Proportional Representation (PR) where the parliamentary seats are divided among political parties in the ratio of total votes cast during the general election (URT Constitution of 1977 Art.78 [1] and Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar Constitution of 1984 Art. 67[1, 2]).
Taking the example of the 2010 General Election where CCM got 65 per cent, Chadema got 24 per cent and CUF got 9.8 per cent of the votes corresponds to (CCM,67; Chadema 25; and CUF 10) number of women special seats allocated for them by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) respectively and the same is applied by Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Proportional representation (PR) electoral system, if well managed, enables equal representation of voters in the law and decision making bodies in the land, where seats are allocated in relation to the votes a political party garners.
It also reduces individual-based politics and gives precedence to issues based where political parties will be scrutinised in terms of their manifestos, not aspirants. It can also give room for legislation which will enable easy recalling of irresponsible MPs and representatives at whatever level they serve.
The PR system reduces the monopoly of a party by few individuals with command of financial power. It also gives room for representation of different groups in the society at equal rate, where the list presented by the party must be arranged in terms of age, minority groups’ representation and gender balance must be observed to ensure equal representation and justice is done.
PR also ensures succession processes are easier and people are nurtured not depending on their economic influence but age and capacity to articulate issues affecting them.
In the FPTP method with simple majority voters use their democratic right only once in five years if we are to maintain the five- year tenure in the new constitution.
Even if the representative is not discharging his duties, he will still be there and may be sure of going back to Parliament because he can buy off poor voters by his wealth, PR will eliminate this by bringing the power to the people.
With the changing trends in the voting system and the need for representation of the different groups in Tanzanian societies, PR might prove successful.
With meaningful change in the political and electoral landscape in Tanzania, there is a need for live debates on the electoral system that is appropriate and will bring about equitable representation.

Author: Joseph Ogana a Project Officer with Agenda Participation 2000

Source:  The Citizen Sunday August 5th, 2012

  1. flavian says:

    a gat it

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