There is more to Draft Constitution than 50 percent plus 1

By Laura Miti

And then we had the draft Republican Constitution! Very welcome it is too. What a huge document though. Am I the only one thinking the Technical Committee was a little too verbose in writing this draft-they seemed to routinely use 4 clauses where one would suffice trying so hard to cover all the bases that really could be left to subsidiary legislation.

But then I guess they took the better safe than sorry stance. But that is a small problem. The important thing is that the draft does seems to have been written in the interest of citizens and this is reflected in the way it has generally been received.

That said though, it would be tragic if we all spent our time talking about the tired political questions of 50 percent plus 1, dual citizenship, Ministers from outside parliament etcetera. These are of course the kind of things you can talk about without bothering to read the draft yourself. You just regurgitate everything you have heard everyone say for years!

But there is a whole lot more critical stuff hidden in that document that we need to think about. Take for example the proportional representation system of election for Parliament. That I do not like. If we think we have seen Mps who disappear into Manda Hill under this current constitution, wait till we introduce the party list system envisaged by this draft. That’s when the only reminder in a constituency of an MP will be the plume of dust left behind his/her disappearing 4×4 after election day.

What the party list means is that MPs are not elected directly by constituencies. Instead, each party comes up with a list in accordance with the number of Parliamentary seats. The voters then cast their votes, not for the individual MP, but for the party of their choice. At the end of the day, the votes cast are divided proportionally among all parties according to a set threshold.

Thus, if 20,000 votes equals one seat then for every 20,000 ballots achieved, a party will get a parliamentary seat. If a party only manages one seat whoever is first on their list will be the MP and so on. This system has one big advantage-every vote counts.

You do not get the situation that currently obtains where those who cast their vote for the losing candidate have no voice even if that candidate had a fair percentage of the ballots. The proportional representation system delivers a parliament that reflects the vote cast and generally ensures that there is a balanced Parliament. There is a problem though. It is that because MPs are placed on a list by their parties, their loyalty is to the party not to the voters.

 No matter how bad an MP is if s/he s in the good books of the party they will be placed high on the list and retain their seat. Those with real power then are the party leaders who determine how high a candidate gets to be on the list. Just imagine the bowing before party leaders that goes on.

South Africa uses this system and there are widespread calls for a change to direct vote for Parliamentarians because many South Africans do not even know who their MP is and it is impossible to hold them to account. MPs bloody well do not care about constituencies, it is all about keeping in the good books of the party.

I then would prefer a mixed system where a percentage of the seats are determined through the proportional system while the majority are still elected directly. That way we remedy the problem of representivity we are trying to, but do not create a new monster.

There are other little things to pay attention to in the Draft. Section 28 ( 6) for example jumped out at me. In essence, it provides that if I kill someone while preventing them from committing an offence I have not deprived them of their right to life. Wow an offence, what offence -treason, murder, speeding, pick pocketing??? That is such a loose provision and there are others. Simply I am saying there is more to a constitution that 50 percent plus 1.

There are critical questions of public finance management that determine how government resources will be managed and accounted for, then of course the huge decentralisation question. I am praying therefore that citizens read the draft, massive though it may be, and make considered input into the final draft. We might not get another chance like this anytime soon.

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