A system where voters vote directly for the nation’s president and public representatives could curb current ongoing voter apathy caused by politicians’ lack of accountability.
Political analyst Sanusha Naidu said it was becoming clear that people had had enough of the proportional representation (PR) system, as it brought them leaders that were not accountable.
Former president Jacob Zuma is always cited as the worst case of the PR system, as he was not directly elected by the people.
Zuma was more a project of a disgruntled faction of the ANC’s national executive committee elected at Polokwane in 2007 that was opposed to then president Thabo Mbeki rather than a popular choice of the party membership and the citizenry.
Under the PR system, which came into being as a result of the compromises reached during the pre-1994 Kempton Park constitution talks, the electorate vote for a political party which in turn elects a president among its elected representatives.
After being elected through a vote in parliament, the president-elect would then resign their member of parliament (MP) post in terms of the constitution that required that the president of the republic must not be an MP.
Naidu said the current situation where majority of the electorate tended to stay away from the polls after the historic 1994 democratic elections, justified the need for the reformation of the current electoral system to make it more democratic.
“There is a strong case for electoral reform so that people can vote directly for the president,” she said.
“Not that people wanted to continue voting for a political party but they do so because the electoral system says so. People don’t want to continue voting for the same ANC or any other party for that matter, but our system is set in a way that you must exercise your democratic right to vote through a political party even if you don’t want.”
The PR system had caused disgruntlement among voters because they had no say in who should represent them as this task was in the hands of the party.
In order to curb disgruntlement and resultant voter apathy, Naidu suggested that there should be a system where voters would be able to vote for individuals instead of the party.
The constituency system is partly practised at local government level, where ward councillors are directly elected by voters.
But at both national and provincial levels, the PR system applies, leaving the party to deploy MPs and MPLs to parliament and the provincial legislatures.
Once elected, the parliamentarians and the president account to the party that deployed them instead of the electorate.
According to Naidu, the constituency system was more ideal for democracy because it allowed people to have a say.
They would have the power to recall the elected representative if they were unhappy with their performance.
“There should be a way of voting for candidates instead of a party,” she said. “It means that in the mix you could have independents coming in.”
The proposal by the Frederick van Zyl Slabbert commission for a constituency system was shelved but Naidu questioned why it wasn’t popular, even among the opposition parties.
“There was a proposal but I do not know why it didn’t get any traction.
But I think it’s the way that first-past-the-post system works which some enjoy,” she said.
Naidu said in some of the political parties, there were leaders who were more popular than their parties.
She cited the case of President Cyril Ramaphosa – most surveys showed him to be more liked by the people than the ANC itself.
Naidu highlighted the fact that most parties were patriarchal, with the top leadership dominated by males.
She cited the top three – the ANC, DA and EFF as examples of male-dominated parties.
The EFF was dominated by its leader Julius Malema, his deputy Floyd Shivambu, and chairperson Dali Mpofu, but its female leaders remained obscure, although a few were in the national command team, the party’s top brass.
Similarly, the DA had a male-strong leadership, although the party had its own tension caused by a fight for dominance between the black and white sections of the leadership.