PROPORTIONATE REPRESENTATION

Parliamentary system is the real deal

In Summary

• For two reasons: It is beneficial to minority tribes, which get equal representation as the big ones thus promoting equity.

• The second is that pure presidential systems don’t promote fairness

Kenya Parliament
Kenya Parliament

When we enacted the 2010 Constitution, we put in place a system aimed at making representation as equal as possible. This is how we ended up with the 290 constituencies up from the previous 210 in the last boundary review.

According to Article 89 of the Constitution, the boundaries of each constituency shall be such that the number of people in it is “as nearly as possible equal to the population quota.”

It also gives other conditions including that the population cannot be more or less to the population quota by 40 per cent for cities and sparsely populated areas and 30 per cent for the rest.

The quota is arrived at after dividing the total population with the 290 constituencies. While this gave us a sense of having equal representation, it is very far from what proportionate representation means in a democracy, especially when it comes to the presidency.

Proportionate representation is an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.

With proportional representation based on parties, we are able to refocus our political thinking on issues. This takes us away from personality-based politics that give politicians a higher profile than the issues facing Kenyans.

South Africa is one of the countries that have perfected proportional representation where voters vote for parties and not individuals. It is the parties that then decide who they send to Parliament to the seats they get based on the votes that a party gets in the elections.

The National Assembly seats are filled in two tiers: 200 seats are regional seats and filled by reference to regional votes and regional lists; the other half is made up of national seats and filled by reference to national votes and national lists.

Unlike here where voters directly elect the President in a winner-takes-all situation, the National Assembly elects the President of South Africa after the election. In our system, Members of Parliament represent disproportional populations with constituencies and counties with low populations and those with high ones having similar weight in the National Assembly as well as the Senate.

There are two key reasons why proportional representation such as a parliamentary system that Kenyans are clamouring for is the preferred form of electoral systems.

The first reason is that a parliamentary system is beneficial to minority tribes, which get equal representation as the big ones thus promoting equity. The second reason is that pure presidential systems do not promote fairness.

A lot of countries have taken up proportional representation thus avoiding divisive presidential elections. This also promotes the establishment of strong political parties that concentrate on winning the most votes thus getting higher parliamentary representation to form the executive government.

In a pure presidential system like ours, it is only the big tribes that succeed mostly causing divisions and war. The winner-takes-all approach leads to the “African Big Man’ syndrome and it needs to be refocused to be more representative and people-centric.

With proportional representation based on parties, we are able to refocus our political thinking on issues. This takes us away from personality-based politics that give politicians a higher profile than the issues facing Kenyans.

Moving into such a system will also force political parties to focus us on issues and not personalities. Political parties would have to sell policies to the voters and counter those of their opponents instead of going at each other as we have seen in our campaigns.

Other than the benefit of stability that comes with a parliamentary system, this is also cost-effective, as we have witnessed how expensive presidential elections are, especially if there has to be a rerun like we had in 2017.

We thus should consider establishing a parliamentary system where the party leader of the majority party or coalition forms the government. At the regional levels, we would do away with by-elections, with parties only going back to their lists to replace members.

A system that helps us effectively form the government without the unnecessary creation of divisive political elections is what we need. This should be a key consideration for BBI team if it proposes we make changes to the Constitution.

@MachelWaikenda