Electoral Systems Reform in SADC: In Search of Accountability, Representation and Political Stability

EISA held a conference on Electoral System Reforms in Southern African Development Community: In Search of Accountability, Representation and Political Stability.
3-4 September 2003
Kopanong Hotel and Conference Centre, Benoni, South Africa

Bacground

The stark reality in Southern Africa is that elections in many countries have been disputed. Some have been deemed not free and transparent. Allegations of fraud and rigging in elections have paralysed the functioning of several states. Election disputes have pushed countries to the brink of civil war (Zimbabwe) and to war (Angola)1. The exclusionist character of most electoral systems has now been identified as a major cause of election-related violent conflicts.

The political history of southern Africa and the concomitant political culture have had an overbearing imprint and impact on the nature of electoral systems that individual states have adopted since the independence period. A majority of the Southern African states were under the British colonial rule and upon independence they adopted the Westminster constitution and political arrangement that go with it. It should then be noted that very few Southern African states have thus far taken a deliberate effort to adopt an electoral system of their own choice involving internal popular consultations. These include South Africa, Namibia and recently Lesotho. It is not surprising therefore, that out of 14 SADC states; eight operate the FPTP system, given that Britain was a dominant colonial power in the region. Only four member-states of SADC, namely Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, have adopted the proportional representation (PR), while three others operate some hybrid of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR) combined together. Distinctions between the FPTP and proportional representation as dominant electoral systems in southern Africa are worth considering.

For an electoral system to add value to democracy, it must enhance accountability of the MPs to their constituency while at the same time ensuring broader representation of key political forces in the legislature. In this way a political system becomes more inclusive and participatory and accords the rulers legitimacy to govern. This further prevents the destabilisation of the region.

Objective

The objectives of the conference were:

  1. to offer standard characteristics that must be part of the best electoral system for the SADC region; and
  2. to inform the reform of the electoral system in each country, where necessary.

Modus vendi

The activities of the conference were to:

  • discuss the possibility of electoral system reforms in SADC and propose an electoral system that would ensure representation, accountability and political stability in SADC countries; and
  • propose generic characteristics for a best electoral system that could be considered by the different countries in the region when designing new electoral systems.

1 In Angola elections pushed the country back to war clearly showing that if badly conceived and implemented elections can be an obstruction to peace and democracy