Proportional representation is an idea whose time has come, hopefully BBI fronts it
- Proportional representation allows for an inclusive government rather than the exclusivist system.
- More often than not, in the proportional representation system, to form governments coalitions have to be formed.
“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.
Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” These are the famous words of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
While this is true of democracy, the same could also be said for the electoral system called Proportional Representation (PR).
This system, by no means perfect and without faults, is the most representative of all electoral systems, and arguably the only system whereby all, or at least the overwhelming majority, of votes contribute to the results.
As the Building Bridges Initiative is looking at ways to make Kenyan politics more representative, which in turn will lead to a fairer, more equal, unified and peaceful nation, the possibility of adopting proportional representation in Kenya has to be seriously considered.
From its independence, Kenya has had a majoritarian government where the winner takes all, meaning that those who gain the most votes in an election rule, almost absolutely.
This means that those who voted for a leader or parties that aren’t part of their coalition have their votes thrown away and voice effectively ignored.
They will then have to wait many more years in anger and resentment, but most importantly without representation.
They look at the current system and see an elected representative system which allows the possibility of a minority with ultimate power.
This has historically been a frequent recipe for disaster as we saw during election periods that resulted in bloodshed.
The all-or-nothing approach has allowed those who did not find their answers and solutions at the ballot box to be manifested elsewhere.
Proportional representation is ideal for a situation like Kenya, with disparate tribes, religions and political parties. Each is favoured in some regions and less so in others.
There can be a situation where a particular party wins 10 to 15 per cent of the vote nationally but will win scant representation under the current winner-takes-all system, leaving its supporters deeply unsatisfied. A case in point is the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom.
In 2010, they won around 23 per cent of the total vote but only attained less than nine per cent of the number of seats in the House of Commons.
In European Parliament elections, whose results from the same population according to proportional representation, the Liberal Democrats control around a quarter of all votes and thus a quarter of all seats.
Moreover, proportional representation allows for an inclusive government rather than the exclusivist system we have had until now.
More often than not, in the proportional representation system, to form governments coalitions have to be formed.
This means not only will more groups, tribes and Kenyans from different backgrounds have a seat at the government table, but also ensures that decisions are the result of compromise and negotiations.
The larger parties would need the smaller parties so they would have to guarantee parts of their agenda, and likewise.
No one party would have their whole agenda implemented at the cost of the other, rather we would see how differing agendas can be consolidated and enacted for the good of a wider cross section of society.
Finally, the proportional representation system would break the stranglehold of the big parties and their dynasties.
Smaller parties can join the system and if they are able to garner enough attention and support for their issue then they might be able to make or break a government, catapulting the issue to the front of the national agenda.
Political parties under the proportional representation system would have fixed lists which would allow for minority or gender slots to ensure more balance in the party. Many parties using the system hold specific spots for people from different regions, backgrounds and gender.
There is a lot good about the PR system, and someone could easily poke holes in it from an opposing point of view.
However, as stated above, while every system has its drawbacks, there is no other system which allows greater representation, compromise, fairness and equality. This is why PR needs to be adopted in Kenya, even if it is the ‘worst system’.
Sammy Kwinga is a Nairobi-based political scientist.