Fit to govern? A comparative analysis of the suitability of South Africa’s current proportional representation electoral system versus the majority system.
Mazibuko, Thembelani Sabelo Mahluli.
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The debate around the type of electoral system that South Africa should use has been ongoing for some time. The debate started during the Congress for a Democratic South Africa negotiations. While the negotiations resulted in South Africa settling on the list proportional representation system, the debate around which electoral system South Africa should use continues. This particular research evaluates two particular types of electoral systems. The first type is the first-pass-the-post majority system, where politicians are elected directly by voters, and the second type is the current list proportional representation system, in which voters vote for a political party which then deploys the politicians into elected office. More particularly, the research asks which of the two electoral systems is better equipped for the purposes of running South Africa’s elections given the normative goals of advancing accountability, ensuring a diverse and representative set of elected representatives and mitigating against the influence of private money on the political system. The research utilized the behavioural approach in order to study the research question. The researcher used comparative method as a methodology in order to compare and contrast the two systems from the perspective of different countries. This research differs from other research in that the researcher locates the research question within the values and ideals contained in South Africa’s own constitution. It is found that it is the proportional representation system that achieves the aforementioned normative goals of advancing accountability, ensuring a diverse and representative set of elected representatives and mitigating against the influence of private money. Furthermore, the research found that the idea that the majority system is more accountable is not borne out in objective fact. It is found that it is the proportional representation system that yields a more representative and diverse set of elected representatives whereas the majority system tends to favour incumbency – of both the political party and the politicians. The research also finds that, under the proportional representation system, politicians are less likely to be dependent on soliciting money for their political survival and therefore that the proportional representation system provides an effective bulwark against the proliferation of money in politics. In light of the above findings, the research found that it is the proportional representation system which creates a political culture that is in line with the values contained in the Constitution. The value of the study is that it debunks myths about the “effectiveness” of the majority system while simultaneously shining a light on the underappreciated virtues of the current proportional representation system. The study also sounds a warning bell about the influence of money in contemporary democracies.