There's Need For Debate On The Women's Seat
The press says that
the Bill to amend the Constitution has been published (published? – the Government
bookshop does not have it, nor so the websites of the CIC, Law Reform
Commission and State Law Office). We are told that it provides for extra seats
to ensure that there are no more than two-thirds from either gender in the
National Assembly or Senate.
This sounds most like
the CoE’s suggestion, rejected by the Parliamentary Select Committee in
Naivasha: as many extra seat as are needed to make up the necessary minimum
one-third of the under-represented gender. Like the provision for counties in
Many Kenyan are
fearful that any amendment will be just the thin end of the wedge that might
eventually crack open the entire constitutional settlement.
The IIEC’s suggestion –
one-quarter of the seats in the National Assembly to be reserved, in rotation,
for women candidates only – may remain impossible to “sell” to the incumbent
MPs. This is true in India, despite support of the Prime Minister and Sonia
Gandhi (and the women’s cause does not have such high-powered support in
possibilities seem possible without amendment: that is not contradicting the
specific provisions on elections and – though limiting the choice of voters and
candidates – satisfying Article 24 on limiting human rights, in the public
interest. What greater public interest can there be than complying with a
An ingenious “best
runner-up” system was put to the IIEC. Each party contesting in a constituency
would put up a “ticket” – a woman and a man. The voters would vote for the
ticket (or perhaps for individuals as usual). Initial results declared would be
in terms of which party, not which candidate, won.
When all the results were
out, seats would be filled by the man or woman heading the ticket (or the
person within the ticket preferred by the voters). But if this would lead to
more than two-thirds of the seats being filled by one gender (let’s say by
men), the women, and not the men on the tickets would take the seats until the
balance was achieved. The constituencies to “suffer” this would probably be those
where the winning tickets won by the smallest margin (the least successful
winners). Alternatively, if voters expressed their choice of individual not
party, the tickets to be reversed could be those where the gap between the
women and the men was least, but would this produce too much rivalry between
two candidates on the same ticket?
If amendment to the
Constitution is inevitable: one problem about the solution apparently proposed
is that one-third would be the ceiling as well as the minimum for women (extras
would only be taken as far as needed to produce the gender balance required). It
also increases the number of MPs
maybe by quite a large number.
Is there a better
solution? The press indicated recently that the idea was to use the 80 new
seats. This would mean keeping the existing 210 constituencies, and filling the
others from party lists published in advance. If not immediately, over time constituency
boundaries would have to be adjusted so that the National Assembly more
accurately reflected the electorates’ overall party preferences, and that the
votes cast in small constituencies count for no more than those in more
There would be three
ways to allocate the 80 list seats:
allocate them (as in the case of the 12 special seats for the National Assembly)
according to the constituency seats won by parties
- to allocate
them according to the percentage of the vote won each party in the
country as a whole (called the parallel system)
allocate them according to the percentage of the vote won in the country as a
whole, but taking into account the seats won in the constituencies and
using the seats to achieve, as far as possible, proportional representation as
a whole (called mixed member proportional or MMP system).
The first actually increases
the non-proportionality of the overall results. It also means that a party that does not win a single
constituency seat cannot get any list seat even if it should win as much as 5%
of the national vote! The second method would mitigate both these problems –
the first to only a limited extent.
MMP would produce a
house close to proportional in the classic sense. It is used in Germany and New
Zealand (though there voters have separate votes for their constituency MP and
for party; but this is not essential). It would make the inequality between
constituencies much less important: it evens out the problem of votes of
In terms of gender, it
would be possible to build into any list system the same rule that women would
be taken from the list only until the necessary balance was achieved. This
would again mean that one-third women would be the maximum for some time to
come. Also MMP has the disadvantage that the women taken from the 80 seats
would be unevenly spread between parties – how important would this be?
No system is perfect.
But should there not be a national discussion about the various possibilities
on such a major issue, not just a Bill drafted, and probably passed, to suit
the desires of the present MPs?