16 October 2002


This submission attempts to analyse the requirements for an optimal electoral system in a South African context, make specific proposals and indicate why the preferred option has been chosen.


There are two sets of basic requirements with which an electoral system should comply:

2.1 Constitutional Criteria

As there are a number of guidelines and requirements contained in the S.A. Constitution, these are set out in an annexure to this submission (Annexure A). As the requirements applicable to provincial legislatures are essentially the same as those applicable to the National Assembly, they have not been included in the annexure.

The sections most directly relevant to an electoral system are:

Section 1 which sets out South Africaís founding values which include
"a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure
accountability, responsiveness and openness."

Section 42(3) : "The National Assembly is elected to represent the
people and to ensure government by the peopleÖÖÖÖ."

Section 46(1) : "The National Assembly consists of no fewer than 350
and no more than 400 women and men elected as members in terms
of an electoral system that Ė
ÖÖÖ. (d) results, in general, in proportional representation".

2.2 General Criteria

In addition to the constitutional imperatives of accountability, responsiveness and fairness, the electoral system should pass the tests of inclusiveness and, simplicity, and assisting in the consolidation and strengthening of democracy in South Africa.


The current closed list proportional representational system operating in South Africa (which was entrenched in the Constitution until after the 1999 election) is one in which voters vote for political parties, and each party gets a share of the seats in Parliament precisely reflecting the share of the votes which it obtained in the election. The result is an equitable translation of votes into seats and therefore equitable representation for all political parties.

It is immune from gerrymandering, perceived to be fair, and although not as understandable as a single member constituency system, it is simple enough to be widely understood.

The major weaknesses of the system are the lack of accountability of Members of Parliament to individual voters or identifiable groups of voters, and the alienation from Members of Parliament that this causes amongst voters.

"What is everybodyís responsibility is nobodyís responsibility". The arbitrary allocation by political parties of MPís to non-existent "constituencies" is a very poor substitute as there is no accountability to, and no mandate from, the voters themselves.

There is no link between the public and individual MPís and MPLís; only a link between the public and political parties. In practice, this means that voters do not have ownership of Parliament as such.

Accountability has at least four components, not all of which can necessarily be co-ordinated or operate in tandem at all times:

to the oath taken by MPís: to ĎÖ. obey, respect and uphold the Constitution Ö.í;

to voters: any credible notion of democracy implies some degree of accountability (and responsiveness) to voters;

to a party on whose list an MP is elected;

to an MPís own conscience and the memberís interpretation of the best interests of the country.

The current system clearly encompasses little or none of the second and fourth components, and is overwhelmingly weighted in favour of the third component: accountability to the party.

The second weakness is the power which it places in the hands of the political parties (as opposed to the voters), particularly the party leadership. Where members lose their seats if they change parties or are expelled from their parties, this enormous power in the hands of those who control the political parties is even greater. Proposals to permit members to change parties under certain circumstances during a couple of specified weeks every second year reduce but do not eliminate this power.

While it is true that in constituency elections many, if not most, voters in the first instance vote in their constituencies primarily in terms of party rather than candidate preferences, the fact remains that

voters have the opportunity to reject a specific candidate even if he or she represented their preferred party;
the local party members usually have a major say in deciding who their partyís candidate would be in that constituency;
parties, in general, are more sensitive to voter attitudes and the performance on the ground of their MPís, MPLís and candidates; and
the elected MP has a mandate from, and was accountable to, the voters who elected her or him.

If Members of Parliament do not do their jobs properly they stand the risk of losing either their partyís nomination or their constituency seat in an election. The current PR list system encourages a Member to keep his or her party, rather than the voters, happy and MPís will therefore tend to put the interests of the party first, rather than those of the voters.

A further weakness with a PR list system is its practical effect on the recruitment of top quality candidates. In the PR list system, every person in a political party aspiring to be elected is in competition with every other aspirant candidate of the party for a place high on the list to ensure election. Therefore, it is not in the interests of existing members or new aspirant candidates to encourage or recruit other high quality candidates because, by doing so, they may jeopardise their own chances of election.

In contrast to this, under a constituency system, it is in the interests of the party and every candidate in every other constituency for there to be candidates of the highest possible calibre in each constituency, because it will then reflect favourably on the party as a whole, and enhance the prospects of the other candidates being elected.


Section 46 of the Constitution stipulates, inter alia, that MP's must be " elected as members in terms of an electoral system that -..(d) results, in general, in proportional representation. "

There are scores of proportional representation systems, so the Democratic Alliance (DA) first considered whether certain systems would be too complicated for South Africa at this stage of our development, irrespective of any other merits which they might have.

It was decided by the DA that it would work on the assumptions that: (1) South African voters could not currently cope with (a) having to rank sequentially candidates or parties on a ballot paper and (b) having to put more than one cross on a single ballot paper; and (2) the Independent Electoral Commission (I.E.C.) could not cope with second or third rounds of an election held within weeks of the first round.

Taking these assumptions into account, the electoral systems considered feasible were the existing PR system, single-member constituencies with compensatory PR lists and multi-member constituencies with compensatory PR lists.


There were numerous factors taken into account Ė far too many to set out in a submission such as this. However, some of the more important issues, which were not overlooked and are not necessarily self-evident from the recommendations, are:

5.1 Normally, electoral systems are reviewed only when there is a crisis. Because of our constitutional requirements, we have the opportunity to review our system now Ė an opportunity not likely to arise again in the near future;
5.2 Anything which can strengthen democracy, responsiveness and accountability in South Africa is in the best interests of all South Africans;
5.3 Multi-member constituencies are less vulnerable to gerrymandering than single-member constituencies.
5.4 Parties play a fundamental role through the nomination of candidates and should be obliged to observe democratic and fair processes in doing so. Having constituencies would strengthen the likelihood of internal democracy within parties.
5.5 The DA has frequently called for a smaller National Assembly. A National Assembly of 360 members is proposed.


A Proportional Representational system of Multi-Member Constituencies combined with Party Lists to achieve overall proportionality

The challenge is to try to meet as many of the objectives of an ideal electoral system as possible by enhancing the strong points and avoiding the weaknesses of both the single member first-past-the-post constituency and the pure proportional list systems.

The Democratic Alliance favours a system in which:

75 per cent of MPís (270) are elected from 90 constituencies, each of which would have 3 MPís; and
25 per cent of MPís (90) would come from party lists and be allocated in such a way that the overall total number of MPís from each political party would be in direct proportion to that partyís share of the votes cast.

The objective is to maximise the number of constituency MPís who are directly accountable and responsive to their voters and identifiable by them. The party lists are there to ensure that the end result correctly reflects the electorateís preferences, to make provision for greater inclusiveness and representivity, to accommodate experts and specialists, and to reduce the tensions which could arise if parties suspected that there had been gerrymandering of constituency boundaries.

6.1 Description of the recommended electoral system

The National Assembly would consist of 360 members with 270 members elected in 90 constituencies (each with three MP's) and a further 90 elected from party lists to give overall proportionality.

Each voter would received two ballot papers

(a) Constituency ballot paper

(i) Voters would vote for a party on which the names of 1 to 3 party candidates would be listed on the ballot paper under the name of each party.
The 3 seats in a constituency would be divided proportionally between the parties on the basis of the number of votes obtained on the first ballot paper provided that a party would only be entitled to all 3 seats if it received more than 75% of the votes cast.
(iii) Each three-member constituency would consist of about 206 000 voters. There may be circumstances in which the number of registered voters in a province, municipality or group of municipalities does not work out to give the correct number of voters for a constituency, a few constituencies could have four or five MPís each to accommodate the "surplus" voters.

(b) Party list ballot paper

(i) The voter would have a second ballot to vote for the party of his or her choice.
(ii) The parties would receive additional MPís from the party lists to obtain the correct end proportionality in the same way as is done for municipal elections at present.
(iii) The Electoral Commission would be entitled to increase the number of seats allocated by way of the party lists if it were not able to achieve the correct proportionality using only 90 seats.

(See Annexure B for a more detailed description of the system)

6.2 Rationale for multi-member constituencies

(a) The purpose of having three MPís per constituency to introduce an element of proportionality at constituency level is to increase the probability of individual voters feeling confident that they have at least one constituency MP who represents their interests and is accountable to them, while at the same time keeping the size of constituencies down to manageable proportions so that voters do not feel too remote from their MPís.

If one has more than 3 MPís per constituency and the number of voters in a constituency becomes very large, one defeats the purpose of having constituencies in the first place, as the link between the voters and the MP becomes so weak as to severely impair the intended accountability and responsiveness relationships.

The DA believes that the optimum number of MPís per constituency is three, with the proviso that a limited number of constituencies with four or five members be allowed in the circumstances described in paragraph 6.1 (a)(iii) above.

(c) The DA is not proposing single member constituencies, because the possibility of having multi-party representation of constituency MPís in the National Assembly would be greatly reduced. There is the additional danger of more disputes and tensions over constituency delimitations as gerrymandering is much easier with single rather than multi-member constituencies.

(d) For simplicity, one ballot paper would be for the constituency MPís with the voter placing a single cross next to the party of his or her choice (the candidatesí names from that party would be printed below the party name), and a second ballot paper for the party PR lists would be similar to those used in 1994 and 1999.

The reason for having a second ballot is that it would encourage voters to vote for the candidates they prefer (on the first ballot) without being denied the opportunity of also indicating their party preference (on the second ballot).

The constituency MPís would be elected in proportion to the number of votes obtained by the parties on the first ballot paper in the constituency concerned, with the proviso that, to facilitate broad representation, no party would provide all three MPís for a constituency unless it received more than 75 per cent of the votes cast. This would not disadvantage any party as the PR list allocations would make up for any deviations at constituency level.

(e) Multi-member constituencies will enhance true inclusiveness. Political parties will be able to include candidates with different characteristics on their constituency lists, as well as their national lists.

This will provide ample scope for parties to ensure diversity and representivity in their caucuses. Rural communities are likely to be better represented as a result of having constituencies and other groups, such as women, who are sometimes overlooked, will feature on both constituency and national lists as parties strive to maximise their support. Furthermore, MPís from historically marginalised groups will have much stronger mandates if elected from constituencies rather than having simply been placed on a national list by their partyís hierarchy.

(f) This electoral system would be one in which the vast majority of MPís would be directly answerable and responsive to specific voters; it would be equitable in translating votes into seats; it would promote inclusiveness; and it would ensure that political minorities are represented, yet it would be simple enough for illiterate voters to participate with confidence in elections.

6.3 Advantages of the proposed electoral system

(a) It is fair in that votes translate directly into seats on a proportional basis.
(b) It is inclusive in that small parties will obtain representation.
(c) It is, and will be seen as being fair.
(d) It is simple in that it is easy for voters to express their preferences on the ballot papers.
(e) It is easily amenable to effective and impartial supervision.
(f) Voters will be able to identify their own representatives and vice versa.
(g) There is direct accountability of MPís to individual voters or identifiable groups of voters which, in turn, will encourage responsiveness.
(h) It will give greater power to ordinary voters in the nomination and election of their public representatives.
(i) There is an incentive for parties to recruit top-quality candidates.
(j) Voters have a better chance of being able to identify with at least one of their constituency MPís than in a single member constituency system or in a pure list system in which there are no constituency MPís at all.
(k) Multi-member constituencies could provide an incentive for MPís to provide a better service to their constituents. Voters would have a choice of who to approach for assistance and the community grapevine is likely to affirm or denounce the effectiveness of various MPís. There is, however, the possibility of unhealthy competition between MPís representing the same constituency, although this would be no different from the existing system of informal constituency allocations when different parties designate MPís for the same area.
(l) The system lends itself to evolutionary development to allow, for example, for open lists in which voters can vote for individual candidates without having to change the basic system.
(m) There will be MP's monitoring and demanding delivery in their constituencies
(n) Civil society and volunteers will be able to identify with individual MP's and be encouraged to become involved in political processes. This also has the effect of promoting the democratisation of political parties.
(o) The number of voters per constituency will be quite large and therefore there is unlikely to be as close a relationship between the voters and their constituency MPís as currently potentially exists at local government level. However, over time voters will get to know their public representatives or, at least, where to get hold of them. (See Annexure C for some international comparisons).

It is proposed that essentially the same electoral system be applicable to both the Provincial Legislatures and the National Assembly.

No preferential treatment should be given to constituency MP's as against PR list MP's in respect of allowances, offices, staff, equipment or any other resources or facilities.
8.2 Parties should be allowed a free hand one year after a general election to fill all vacancies which occur on a casual basis. In other words, the constituency and national party lists provided before a general election should fall away completely one year after the election, and no replacement list should be required.

The Act of Parliament referred to in item 13 of Annexure A of Schedule 6 of the Constitution should include provisions which cater for the following:

9.1 Parties should be permitted to merge at any time (and change their names, as is already provided for).
9.2 MPís and MPLís should not be obliged to remain members of parties which have merged and may remain with their original parties (if they still exist), become independent, or be free to start or join any other party.
9.3 MPís and MPLís should be free to become independents or change parties and remain as Members, any time after one year has elapsed since their election. Members would not cease to hold office simply as a result of ceasing to be a member of the party which nominated her or him, irrespective of the reason for the voluntary or involuntary termination of such membership.
9.4 However, to minimise opportunistic enticements to move to more highly remunerated positions, no MP or MPL who ceases to be a member of the party which nominated her or him may be appointed or accept appointment to any position in a legislature or an executive of that legislature which results in the person earning more than she or he was earning at the time they ceased to be a member of the party which nominated her or him, for a period of two years after ceasing to be a member of that party.
9.5 If a member ceases to be a member of a legislature, the party which nominated the member to that legislature shall be entitled to fill the vacancy.
9.6 It would be desirable that if the governing party or parties changed in a legislature as a result of one or more members changing their parties, the legislature should be dissolved and fresh elections called. Whether it is possible to achieve this without an amendment to the Constitution is doubtful.

A great deal more is required to ensure a sustainable, functioning democracy in South Africa than a good electoral system, but there can be little doubt that an electoral system appropriate to South Africaís needs can play an important role in achieving that goal.

There is no "perfect" electoral system. In choosing a system which is best suited at this time to South Africaís needs, one has to make trade-offs in an attempt to find the optimum system. The DA believes that the proposals contained in this submission come as close as one can to the optimum and meet most of the requirements of an "ideal" system.

Annexure A




Section 1:

Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.

Section 19: Political rights

Every citizen has the right to free, fair and regular elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution.
Every adult citizen has the right Ė
to vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution and to do so in secret; and
to stand for public office and, if elected, to hold office.

Section 42: Composition of Parliament

(3) The National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the Constitution ÖÖÖÖÖÖ

Section 46: Composition and election

The National Assembly consists of no fewer than 350 and no more than 400 women and men elected as members in terms of an electoral system that Ė

is prescribed by national legislation;
is based on the national common voters roll;
provides for a minimum voting age of 18 years; and
results, in general, in proportional representation.

An Act of Parliament must provide a formula for determining the number of members of the National Assembly.

Section 47: Membership

(4) Vacancies in the National Assembly must be filled in terms of national legislation.

Section 50: Dissolution of National Assembly before expiry of its term

The President must dissolve the National Assembly if Ė
the Assembly has adopted a resolution to dissolve with a supporting vote of a majority of its members; and
three years have passed since the Assembly was elected.

The Acting President must dissolve the National Assembly if Ė
there is a vacancy in the office of President; and
the Assembly fails to elect a new President within 30 days after the vacancy occurred.

Schedule 6: Annexure A Item 13

The insertion of the following item after item 23:

"Additional ground for loss of membership of legislatures.
23A. (1) A person loses membership of a legislature to which this
Schedule applies if that person ceases to a member of
the party which nominated that person as a member of
the legislature.
(2) Despite subitem (1) any existing political party may at any
time change its name.
An Act of Parliament may, within a reasonable period after the new Constitution took effect, be passed in accordance with section 76(1) of the new Constitution to amend this item and item 23 to provide for the manner in which it will be possible for a member of a legislature who ceases to be a member of the party which nominated that member, to retain membership of such legislature.
An Act of Parliament referred to in subitem (3) may also
provide for Ė
any existing party to merge with another party; or
any party to subdivide into more than one party.

Annexure B




1.1 The system is designed to make it easy for voters to be able to express their preferences. In terms of the ballot paper and voting, the only change from the present system is that the names of up to 3 candidates from a party would be printed on the ballot paper below the name and logo of the party.
1.2 The counting of ballots would be no different from the present system.
The calculation of which candidates are successful is more complicated, but voters do not have to understand that calculation as they are not involved. At present, few voters or candidates are capable of calculating the quotaís and "largest remainders" in the current system.
Determining the number of seats to which a party is entitled from its national list will be calculated as it is at present in municipal elections.
Parties, as is presently the case for the National Assembly, will be entitled to submit Provincial (called Regional in Appendix 2 to the Constitution) lists and no national list. The designation of elected members from the provincial (i.e. regional) lists, where there is no national list, will be done in the same way as it is present.

Calculation of successful candidates

Selection of first successful candidate

The number 1 candidate on the list of the party, "Party A", receiving the most valid votes is elected.

Selection of second successful candidate

One half of the number of votes received by "Party A" is compared with the total number of votes received by the party which received the second highest number of votes, "Party B". A candidate from the party with the higher number is elected i.e. number 2 on "Party Aís" list or number 1 on "Party Bís" list.

Selection of third successful candidate

If both the first two successful candidates were from "Party A":
If "Party A" received more than 75 percent of the votes,
"Party Aís" number 3 candidate on its list is elected,
otherwise the number 1 candidate on the list of the party
which received the second highest number of votes,
"Party B", is elected.
If the first two successful candidates were from different parties (i.e. "Party A" and "Party B"):
One half of the number of votes received by "Party A" is compared with the total number of votes received by the party which received the third highest number of votes, "Party C". A candidate from the party with the higher number is elected i.e. number 2 on "Party Aís" list or number 1 on "Party Cís" list.

2.4 In constituencies with 4 or 5 MPís, the same principles would apply and a party would need to obtain more than 80 or 83,3% respectively to have all its candidates in that constituency elected.

Constituency Delimitation

3.1 (a)
The total number of voters registered on the national
common voters roll would be divided by 270 to give the number of voters per MP i.e. a quota.
(b) This quota would be divided into the number of registered voters in each province to give the number of constituency MPís to be elected by each province.
(c) The number of constituency MPís per province would then be divided by 3 to give the number of constituencies per province. Remainders would then be absorbed by creating constituencies with 4 or 5 MPís each.

3.2 (a) It is envisaged that constituencies consist of a certain
number of municipal wards to give approximately the
same number of voters per constituency. A 5 to 8 percent variance above or below the average would be permitted.
(b) The intention is that, as far as possible, each constituency MP should represent the same number of registered voters.

3.3 It is recognised that the governing party may succeed in having constituency boundaries drawn to favour them. However, even
if this happens, the overall outcome of an election would not be
affected. In practice, it would be difficult to manipulate multi-
member constituencies in a way which would prevent opposition
parties from winning constituency seats.

Having said that, it is also acknowledged that additional resources paid for by the state could be allocated to constituency MPís and not PR MPís. One may have to consider some legislative prohibition or limitation on "discrimination" between MPís.

3.4 Constituency boundaries

(a) The whole of any voting district must fall within a single constituency.
(b) Wherever possible, the whole of any ward should fall within a single constituency.
(c) (i) Wherever possible, a constituency should fall
within one municipality.
Where a constituency consists of more than one
municipality, the whole of a municipality should,
wherever possible, fall within the same
(d) (i) Wherever possible, a constituency should fall
within one district council.
Wherever a single constituency is larger than a district council, the whole of a district council should, wherever possible, fall within the same constituency.
(e) The voting districts, wards or municipalities which make
up a constituency must be contiguous (i.e. adjoining).


4.1 Delimitation could permit constituencies to vary in size and have 3 to 5 MPís each, as long as the number of registered voters per MP is the same. This would accommodate odd numbers that could arise in respect of municipal or provincial boundaries, or because of major topographical features.
The IEC could be permitted to increase the total number of MPís above 360 if the proposed 90 PR MPís are not enough to get the overall proportionality correct. The additional MPís would come off the partiesí national lists.
It is recognised that it is statistically possible, although very unlikely, that it may not always be possible to obtain exactly the correct proportions between MPís from different parties, even after the IEC has added 40 MPís to bring the total up to 400, the maximum number permitted by the constitution.

In those circumstances, the variations from exact proportionality
would be very small and the electoral system would still have
resulted, in general, in proportional representation, so
conforming with the constitutional requirements.

It could be stipulated that, in the allocation of additional seats, any party which in terms of exact proportionality would be entitled to:
an outright majority in the National Assembly, must be given enough seats to have such a majority; and
a seat in the National Assembly, must be given at least one seat.

Largest constituency:
Registered voters

Largest constituency:
Area (Sq. km)

Average no. registered voters per constituency

Number of registered voters

Average area per constituency

population per constituency

Number of representatives

Area (sq. km)


Annexure D
Constituency Sizes: International Comparisons

698 260

963 932

359 589

156 421 311

21 055

646 000

435 (single-member constituencies)

9 158 960

281 421 906


Outer Delhi
3 101 838

Not available

1 126 472

619 336 866

5 405

1 701 925

550 (single-member constituencies)

2 973 190

936 545 814


113 519

2 285 000

86 640

12 822 646

51 473

132 000

148 (single-member constituencies)

7 617 930

19 550 700


Wild Rose
134 711

Western Arctic
1 493 320

70 576

21 243 473

30 210

103 300

301 (single-member constituencies)

9 093 507

31 081 900


75 779

Ave. 5 080

75 779

18 187 002

5 080

185 667

360 (240 from constituencies; 120 PR list)

1 219 090

44 560 000

(single member constituencies)

202 078 per thee member constituency

Ave. 13 545 per constituency
(4 515 per MP)

67 359 (202 078 per three member constituency)

18 187 002

13 545 per constituency
(4 515 per MP)

165 037
(495 111 per
3 member constituency)

360 (270 from constituencies; 90 PR list)

1 219 090

44 560 000

(Multi-member constituencies)