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December 16, 2018

Proportional representation more democratic, less costly

Members of the National assembly at Parliament
Members of the National assembly at Parliament


We are accustomed to tossing about the word “democracy” that we often forget it is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Democracy is supposed to be a facilitating mechanism. The idea behind democracy is that everyone should have an equal say in how their country or society is run.

Unfortunately, millions of Kenyans have been continuously denied this right by our unfair voting system. Since Independence, Kenyans are only used to a single-member constituency or winner-takes-all system of election, which has become tradition. In fact, it is outside our imagination that there is a better and fairer system of election. The traditional system ignores the wishes of millions of Kenyans who are keen on voting on issue that are closest to their hearts, that affect them at a personal level.

It is imperative in a free democracy that every vote counts. To achieve this imperative, we need to change our election system from winner takes all to a fairer one based on Proportional Representation where every vote counts.

Proportional representation system of election is underpinned by two basic principles: That all voters deserve representation and that all political groups founded on different ideologies deserve to be represented in our legislative assemblies in proportion to their strength on electorates. The effect of this is that every vote counts.

How does proportional representation work? First, it uses multi-member constituencies such as counties. Instead of electing one person in each constituency, as we do currently, several people are elected in a multi-member constituency or county. These multi-member constituencies or counties may be relatively small like Lamu with only three national assembly members or they may be large like Nairobi with 17 members of the National Assembly.

Proportional representation system of election requires electorates in a multi-member county to vote for various parties presenting a list of candidates in that county. The parties will then win seats according to the proportion of votes they received.

That is, if the candidates of a party win 40 per cent of the votes in a 10-member county, they receive four out of the 10 seats or 40 per cent of the seats. If another party gets 20 per cent of the votes, they get two seats and so on. In effect, the overall goal of proportional representation is to ensure that all voters receive some representation and that all parties are represented fairly. The minority deserve representation just as much as the majority.

Countries currently using proportional system include Rwanda, Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Denmark, Israel, Mozambique, Namibia, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo and Tunisia.

Wider benefits have been identified in countries using proportionate representation compared to those using First Past The Post (FPTP), including higher score in the UN Human Development Index, a measure of health, education and personal security, higher economic growth, and better environmental protection.

Here in Kenya there was stability, peace and growth during the Grand Coalition Government of 2008-13 when a larger section of the population felt represented.

The folly of FPTP can easily be seen in some constituencies in Nairobi where a candidate was declared winner despite 65.4 per cent of the electorates voting against. In other words some representatives are elected to the legislative assemblies with as low as 34.6 per cent of the votes. This anomaly can only be cured by proportional representation.

Naturally, there would be higher voter turnout at the polls under proportional representation as the electorates will come to realise that their votes really count.

Proportional representation will facilitate minority parties to access representation if the threshold is objectively worked out thereby enriching our national policy discourse.This will encourage political parties to campaign beyond the constituencies in which they are stronger or dominant, leading to more cohesion as opposed to the current zoning.

Proportional representation will easily cure the gender parity question by simply requiring parties to produce a gender sensitive list at every level of election. A well-structured party list will eliminate the need for nominations to the county assemblies, National Assembly and even Senate, thereby reducing the cost of representation.

We must change our election system sooner than later from FPTP to a more democratic and fairer proportional representation for a better Kenya.


Party leader, Green Congress (Party) of Kenya 

[email protected]

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