South African’s National Liberation Movement

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ANC Submission on a future electoral system to the electoral task team

17 October 2002

Resolution of the National Policy Conference

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC distributed a discussion paper (attached) to ANC structures on the electoral system. On the basis of this document, ANC branches, regions and provinces discussed this matter and presented mandates on it to the National Policy Conference. We embarked on this process because we believe that the ANC as a movement – representing close to two thirds of the voters – and separate from government, should input into the debate and discussions on as crucial a matter as the future electoral system.

The National Policy Conference of the ANC, held from 27-30 September 2002 at Ekurhuleni, adopted a position on the future electoral system – informed by ANC constitutional structures, as part of a comprehensive resolution on Transforming the State and Governance. The following is therefore an extract of the relevant portions of this resolution:


  1. The challenge of nation building remains the primary task of the ANC for the full realisation of the NDR.
  2. The current electoral system contributes to nation building and the maintenance of stability by promoting inclusivity and national reconciliation; that the proportional representation system has facilitated representative institutions with a special focus on women, rural communities and other targeted groups such as people living with disabilities, the elderly, youth and that accountability is not dependent solely on an electoral system.
  3. That where people are not involved in the decisions that affect their lives, social policies and political interventions are less likely to succeed. Participatory democracy should therefore complement and enhance representative democracy.

Therefore resolves on a Future electoral system

1. To retain the current system and to review the constituency work of its public representatives to enhance accountability.”

Future electoral systems for South Africa

Discussion document for National Policy Conference

“We conceive of our country as a single united, democratic and non-racial state, belonging to all who live in it, in which all shall enjoy equal rights, and in which sovereignty will come from the people as a whole, and not from a collection of Bantustans and racial and tribal groupings organized to perpetuate minority power”
[O.R Tambo, “Message to the Fourth Congress of the Frelimo Party“, Sechaba, London, July 1983]

1. These words from the late Cde Tambo are essential foundational principles of any modern South African state and must continuously enforce our thinking in defining national debate.

2. There are a number of elements that require close examination by the organisation in determining the nature and extent of any new electoral system to be adopted by government in the coming months. The mandate of the Slabbert Commission, established in 2001 by Cabinet in accordance with the Constitution, calls for an urgent re-look at the present model and where necessary to make proposals in line with a more efficient system of elections, but more importantly one that reflects best the will and expressions of the electorate both during elections as well as after many months have passed.

3. Any sober review of an electoral system should therefore include a detailed analysis of our objectives in the transition period, including the nature of the transition state and the policy objectives of government in the coming decade. We must approach these issues in a frank and open manner, with a view to develop the best system that meets the core objectives of the transition, namely building a united nation, enhancing and deepening democracy and advancing the developmental agenda to create a better life for all.

4. Our starting point is the strategic objective of the NDR, the creation of a non-racial, democratic, non-sexist and united South Africa. The Strategy and Tactics (1997) recognises that we are in a phase in which we have started to change society at the same time as we transform the instruments required to effect that change.

5. These twin objectives have to be pursued simultaneously. Social change cannot await the transformation of the state machinery and other instruments of power. But, as experience has taught us, we cannot expect to proceed with the desired pace without changing these instruments”

Context of the debate about the electoral system

6. The 1996 final Constitution does not have detailed prescriptions about how elections for national and provincial legislatures should be run. The constitution provides only a number of broad principles for the election. It also contains transitional arrangements, which specified that the present system only applied until 1999 and that new legislation for new electoral systems could be made subsequent to the 1999 election.

7. The Electoral Task Team (ETT), chaired by Prof Van Zyl Slabbert, has been appointed to make recommendations about future electoral systems. The ETT meets at a time when there is heightened debate in the media about whether a constituency or proportional representation system better serves democracy.

8. The NEC discussed the ANC position at its regular meeting in July 2002 and decided that we should continue to support a PR system for national and provincial elections. We adopted this system during negotiations before 1994, because we wanted an inclusive system and the representation of minority views, in the interest of an inclusive transition. The movement believes that eight years later, we still need to harness our inclusive political system in the interest of nation-building and national unity.

9. The Electoral Task Team will make recommendations about changing or improving the present system before the end of this year and the NEC will have to consider the specific recommendations before we adopt a final position.

10. The following five criteria are proposed for evaluating systems:

  • *Does it deepen democracy and reflect the democratically expressed will of the people?
  • Will it contribute to nation-building and maintain political stability and peace?
  • Will voters feel effectively represented by the elected parliamentarians?
  • Simplicity in terms of voter understanding and
  • Practicality in terms of implementation

This document summarises the current ANC position on different electoral systems.

Different Electoral systems

There are three main systems that we must consider:

11. The present proportional representation system with possible improvements: All MPs and MPLs are drawn from candidates lists selected by their parties. Each party gets a proportion of the seats according to their proportion of the votes. Presently each provincial legislature has one list. Parliament has two lists – 200 seats from a national list, 200 seats from provincial lists.

12. A pure constituency system: Parties and independents nominate candidates for each of 400 constituencies. The candidate who gets the most votes, wins the seat. This is called the first-past-the-post system. If there are many candidates, the winner could be supported by a minority of the voters.

13. A mixed system: Some MPs come from a national PR list and some come from multi-member constituencies. For example about 50 constituencies could be set up according to district and metro council boundaries. They would then be allocated a number of seats according to the number of voters. If a constituency has 5 seats and we win 60%, we will get 3 MPs for that area. Parties will get PR seats in the same way as in our local elections – a top-up system to restore overall proportionality.

Criteria for choosing an electoral system

14. We will briefly look at each of the criteria as they apply to each system, and then summarise conclusions:-

15. Does it deepen democracy and reflect the democratically expressed will of the people? The PR system is the most democratic in that no votes are wasted or lost. In terms of capturing the will of the people, it is the most effective. It ensures that the urban poor and rural voters participate fully and have a powerful impact on results. Minority parties also get fair representation and can express their needs as part of the democratic process. It limits the ability of powerful and well-resourced interest groups to buy power through sponsoring individual`s campaigns.

16. The constituency or first past the post system is undemocratic, since the government can be formed by a party that received less than half the national vote – as has happened with the Conservative Party in Great Britain a number of times. Constituencies where four parties are standing, can sometimes be won by getting only 33% of the vote.

17. A mixed system is democratic because the PR list is used to restore overall proportionality. It does however create two classes of public representatives and small parties will be unlikely to have any constituency MPs. If a constituency has 5 members, you would need 20% of the vote to get a seat. Constituencies will range from 3 – 20 members. Only large metro areas would have up to 20 seats. It is likely that only two parties will be able to nationally contest constituencies, with two other being successful only in KZN and Western Cape. This effectively means that most parties would not really participate in a constituency system and their voters would derive no benefit from it.

18. Will it contribute to nation-building and maintain political stability and peace? The present PR system enables parties to draw up representative lists that include all elements of their constituencies. It also accommodates even the smallest party in a parliamentary democratic system since 0,25% of the vote will secure a seat. This accommodation contains some extremist political groups that could otherwise be threat to stability.

19. A pure first past the post system will lead to the ANC having 80% of the MPs with the DP, IFP and NNP sharing the rest. All smaller parties will disappear or be limited to one or two seats. Voters in each constituency will be polarised when only the winners will be effectively represented. Instead of bringing our society together it will bring not only greater polarisation, with special interests supporting particular MPs who would reflect their interests only.

20. A mixed system will have some of the benefits of the PR system, but these may be watered down by the constituency element where parties will have very few seats to allocate and will find it more difficult to have a representative list. The ANC will win a disproportionate number of constituency seats and will therefore have a smaller part of the PR list to use for balancing its own representation.

21. Will voters feel effectively represented by the elected parliamentarians? The strongest argument advanced against a pure PR system is that voters feel removed from their elected representatives and feel that they are not accountable to them. This notion ignores the fact that alternative systems do not in practice remedy the problems. In a PR system voters vote for a party with a clear national programme. They tend to identify with the national and provincial leaders of that party. In local elections where the representatives are much closer to the people, there are still complaints of distance and lack of accountability. We have a ratio at local level of one ward councillor to about 5 000 voters. There may well be ways to improve accountability and communication and we should also look at our own selection and constituency deployment processes.

22. In a pure constituency system there would be about 1 MP to 50 000 voters. Constituencies would be geographically vast and in provinces like the Northern Cape which constitutes 30% of the land mass of the country, only about 8 MPs would be elected. Constituency candidates are still selected by and accountable to their parties. The belief that they will represent the interests of a vast and diverse population, with competing interests, rather than toe the party line, seems a little naïve. It may be an appropriate model in a more homogenous society.

23. The mixed system will allow for more direct identification between MPs and a geographic area. It may be a slight improvement on a pure PR system in terms of this criterion. In reality most parties would not have any constituency MPs. The MPs elected will have vast area to cover and if there are, for e.g., 200 elected this way, they would each relate to an average of 200 000 voters. In diverse and divided constituencies there is the danger that strong and well-resourced interest groups can become more influential than the democratic process itself.

24. Simplicity in terms of voter understanding. The PR and pure constituency system are both simple and familiar to voters because of the present systems for national and ward elections. The mixed PR and multi-member constituency system is more complicated and may hinder the full-scale participation of illiterate and marginalised voters.

25. Practicality in terms of implementation. The PR system is the simplest to implement since only two ballots will be used in each province. The nomination system, disqualification of candidates, printing of ballot papers and results can easily be centrally coordinated. Remaining with this system will need no re-demarcation or changes to the electoral legislation or system. This will limit the preparation, training of officials and voter education that has to be done. Both the other systems would require extensive changes in law and procedures.

Conclusion 26. The current system in place affords a great degree of stability. It allows for fair representation and gives a voice to all. It has certainly allowed for a greater degree of participation of women, people with disabilities and other targeted groups than any other system could. The system is also simple and familiar to voters.

27. Our preference for this system in no way diminishes the need for constituency-based consultation and communication. We remain committed to deploying MPs/MPLs to constituencies. We should continue to find ways to improve this practice. We should also look at better ways for our elected representatives in all spheres of government to work together to serve a constituency effectively.

28. Modern parliaments are mostly directed by party positions rather than individual MPs views. Therefore political parties are the main vehicles for the representation of various interests. The trend is for voters to find a home in the ideology and policies of a particular party and to vote for the party or its candidate at all levels.

29. This debate will be continued when the Electoral Task Team presents it proposals.