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Reform of SA’s electoral system into a mixed model, combining proportional representation and constituency elections, could squeeze out smaller parties and result in a bigger majority for the ANC, a webinar hosted by Business Day heard on Wednesday.

The electoral system, which has been in place since 1994, is under review after a Constitutional Court decision a year ago. It found the system was not consistent with the constitution because it did not make provision for individuals to stand for election.

A ministerial advisory committee produced a report for Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi last month, advising on the options. The pure proportional representation system has been blamed for undermining accountability by makiing MPs accountable to party bosses rather than voters.

Sithembile Mbete, the spokesperson for the advisory committee and a political analyst, said two options had emerged: a minimalist one, in which the existing proportional representation system was tweaked to allow individuals to stand as parties; and a more thorough reform, in which 200 public representatives are elected from party lists by proportional representation and 200 from constituencies.

Henning Suhr, the country representative of Germany’s Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), warned that while a constituency-based element to voting would lead to a better connection between public representatives and the people, the result could be a greater number of ANC representatives in parliament. Germany has a hyrid electoral system.

“Smaller parties, with less than 3% of the vote, will have more trouble getting elected,” Suhr said. “At the moment they are contesting for a pool of 400 votes and in the future they could be contesting for a pool of only 200 candidates.”

In a “first past the post” election the winner of the seat takes all and votes cast for unsuccessful candidates are discarded. In a proportional representation model every vote counts for the final tally.

Panelists, who also included former constitutional negotiator Roelf Meyer, who is lobbying for electoral reform through the Inclusive Society Institute, also discussed whether constituency-based elections were guaranteed to translate into greater accountability.

Besides giving all citizens the right to stand for election, the Constitution also requires the national assembly to reflect voting results proportionally.

Meyer said that because proportional representation would allow greater representivity of smaller parties it was chosen by the drafters of the Constitution, and  was therefore an essential principle.

“Without proportionality one party can completely dominate. We have seen what happened in the past. That is how the National Party dominated the political scene for 40 to 50 years,” he said.

The Inclusive Society Institute favours a mixed model with some public representatives elected through a party list and others via multi-member constituencies, in which there are three to seven MPs in each constituency.

“That is why the hybrid idea can help accountability, which is something we are all crying out for. It can bring about more accountability than is currently in the system,” said Meyer.

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