DA flights Bill for electoral reform

The party said the aim of the Electoral Reform Bill is to ensure that members of Parliament are more accountable to citizens and that Parliament is tied more directly to constituencies across the country.

"While the current list proportional representation electoral system has its advantages, including that it is inclusive, immune to gerrymandering, and is perceived to be fair, it does not ensure accountability over members of the National Assembly to individual voters. People have no way of voting out an MP who does not perform," the party said.

The Bill is based in part on the results of two studies on electoral reform – the 2003 Slabbert Commission and the 2009 Independent Panel of Assessment of Parliament, both of which favoured a system that included a mix of constituency-based representation and proportional representation.

The Bill suggests the establishment of 100 three-member constituencies, each with approximately the same number of voters. The boundaries of the constituencies would be decided by the Electoral Commission.

Three MPs representing each constituency would then be elected by a system of proportional representation – citizens would vote for a party, and the three members with the most votes would be elected as MPs. To ensure that smaller parties, which may have members split across great geographical areas, are not excluded, a further 100 MPs would be elected from national lists submitted by the various parties.

The ANC dismissed the proposal saying that a change of electoral system was not the panacea to the challenge of accountability.

"Those who have advocated for a change to the constituency system have consistently ignored its associated disadvantages to representative and participatory democracy," it said in a statement.

Replacing the multiparty system
The party said the system would result in the replacement of the current multiparty system with a two-party system and that, contrary to the arguments being made, it would not guarantee improved accountability.

Congress of the People Chief Whip Juli Kilian said that while the lack of accountability in people elected to Parliament was a serious problem, changing the electoral system alone would not change this.

"If you just look back, constituency-based elections kept the National Party government in power for very long," she said.

"It's still the party that determines who is going to represent them. Where the party is strong, that party can put up just about any candidate."

Kilian said that if parties really wanted to relook at electoral reform, they should "not go with opportunistic submissions of legislation" but rather look at "the entire picture".

It is unusual for opposition parties to introduce new Bills into Parliament. Until last year, opposition MPs could not bring a Bill before Parliament unless they received the support of the majority of MPS – a difficult feat in the ANC dominated house.

In 2009, after unsuccessfully attempting to introduce an amendment to the National Credit Act, the Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini approached the Constitutional Court, arguing that any member of Parliament should be able to introduce a Bill into the National Assembly without first getting permission from the majority of members.

Three years later, the court ruled in Oriani-Ambrosini's favour, with chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng saying: "It is a collective responsibility of both the majority and minority parties and their individual members to deliberate critically and seriously on legislative proposals and other matters of national importance."

Engaging with the Bill
However, Bills brought by opposition members still need to be published for comment and pass through the National Assembly for approval.

In the case of the DA-proposed Bill, the portfolio committee on home affairs will have to receive the Bill and MPs will have to engage with it in the committee clause by clause.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said: "Even if we come up against resistance from the ANC, it is going to be in a very public process. The voters will have an opportunity to see what the motivations behind that are."

The party said electoral reform need not be a partisan matter and that it would work with all political parties and organisations to make Parliament work more effectively.

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Faranaaz Parker
Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.

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