Proportional representation will cure personality politics

Democracy, in the immortal words of President Abraham Lincoln, is a government of the people, by the people, for the people. This pithy description makes democracy a sacrosanct concept that endures throughout the universe.

Still, there is no gainsaying the fact that the task of operationalising democracy to the full extent of its meaning has remained too onerous and often elusive. A key feature in democracy is periodic elections, where citizens freely choose their leaders. This underscores the profound need to establish, in every polity at every time, an electoral system that is transparent, accountable and credible.

In its 56 years of self-rule, Kenya has had slightly over 10 elections. The electoral system has always been First Past the Post (FPTP) which means winners are determined by a simple majority. It is also known as winner-takes-it-all. But as elaborated here below, this system has inherent flaws and has spectacularly failed to serve the interest of a vast majority.

Consider an election scenario in constituency X with 50,000 votes cast, representing the highest possible voter turnout, in which five candidates competed. The results show that Candidate A garnered 12,500, B 12,000, C 11,000, D 9,500 and E 5,000. The results mean candidate A is duly elected as representative yet 75 per cent of the voters remain unrepresented.

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From the onset, this electoral system is anchored to run roughshod over majority of the electorates and also frustrate other worthy contenders. 

It systemically creates a tragic political culture of disenfranchising voters and suppressing the realisation of true democratic growth. This benefits no one apart from the few politicians who can shrewdly manipulate their way and impose themselves in leadership positions.

Coupled by other socioeconomic and cultural factors, this system technically makes it tremendously hard for special groups like people living with disabilities (PLWD), youths, women and the historically marginalised to ascend to the pinnacle of leadership thus a terrible blow against inclusivity.

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We all know why it is essential to have a citizenry engaged and participating in the management of their collective welfare but the winner-takes-it-all system only succeeds in creating apathy and disillusionment.

Regressive policies

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In order to fully harness our hard-earned democratic gains and transform it into a powerful force for socioeconomic development, we must cure the malady that has weakened the soundness of our leadership system. Subpar and regressive policies that should not see the light of day are churned out and rubberstamped, thanks to a counterproductive system of governance that First-Past-The-Post yields. A different electoral system would open our eyes to the possibility of making education free for all. A truly democratic electoral process will definitely produce quality leaders, and the converse is true.

Article 4(2) of the Constitution, in letter and spirit, captures that the Republic of Kenya will be a multi-party democratic State founded on national values and principles of governance. Under multi-party democratic systems, parties across the political spectrum run in elections and all have a chance to gain control of government either separately or in coalition. In this case parties compete based on their ideologies and programmes.

It is the overarching view of a silent majority of Kenyans that Proportional Representation (PR) is the right electoral system that will atone for the travesty of democracy occasioned by FPTP. Proportional Representation is an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them in each county.

Essentially, it means the parties are expected to competitively nominate candidates on their party lists and then the electorate votes for the parties. The parties will win seats based on the quota of votes garnered. The jewel in PR is that no one votes in vain as every vote counts.

This paradigm shift is long overdue. It will clean the mess of yesteryears, rid us of cultic personality politics, deliver equal opportunities in appreciation of the unique diversity of the Kenyan people, foster peace, growth and stability by curbing mischief and violence that is now all too familiar. Reinforced by the right legal frameworks, it will revolutionise how parties are run and transform them into functional, ideologically sound, robust and democratic institutions.

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We pulled from white colonialism, transitioned painfully through one-party rule and overcame ethno-political animosity to give ourselves a progressive constitution. We are on the move, albeit haltingly, to find our best selves. Reforming our electoral system will definitely be another milestone.

-The writer is party leader, Green Congress of Kenya.

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DemocracyPoliticsProportional RepresentationElectoral System