Ghana should learn from the 2019 South African elections

While the 2019 South African election has proved pivotal in signalling the beginning of the end for the African National Congress (ANC), one of the oldest liberation parties in Africa, the future looks bright for the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)...


While the 2019 South African election has proved pivotal in signalling the beginning of the end for the African National Congress (ANC), one of the oldest liberation parties in Africa, the future looks bright for the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

It was the only party that grew in all the provinces of the country. Even in the socially conservative province of KwaZulu-Natal, which in the past has proved extremely difficult to penetrate for new parties, its support grew extraordinarily from 1.9% in 2014 to almost 10% in 2019. This, according to analysts, has come at the expense of the ANC, which lost nearly 10%. The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) also lost 5 seats at the National Assembly.

Today the EFF is now the second largest party in three provinces, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the North West province, with an expanded representation at the National Assembly from 25 seats in 2014 to 44 seats in 2019.

With the expansion of the EFF and the shrinking of the ANC and the DA, what lessons can Ghana draw from South Africa in relation to their Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system as opposed to Ghana’s First Past the Post (FPTP) or Winner Takes All (WTA) electoral system?
Even though electoral systems differ from one country to the other, they “can be compared along three broad dimensions: its ballot structure (how citizens cast their vote, and what they vote for); its district structure (how many districts there are, and the number of seats per district); and the electoral formula (how votes are converted into seats)”.

In Ghana there are 16 administrative regions, 230 districts and 275 constituencies with a unicameral legislature. Each constituency is to be represented by one Member of Parliament who obtains a simple majority in the total number of votes. For the Presidential, one ought to obtain 50% 1 vote to be declared winner. During elections voters are issued with a Presidential and Parliamentary ballot. Here, citizens are voting for individuals much as those individuals may be contesting on the ticket of a political party. In fact, the emphasis on the individual is so strong that one could actually contest as an Independent Candidate.

In contrast, in South Africa the emphasis is on the party. It is the prerogative of the party to choose who it wants in the legislatures. Parties submit to the Independent Electoral Commission nine provincial lists for the provincial legislatures; and one national list (although a national list is not mandatory). These lists are ‘closed’ and cannot be altered by voters (but are publicised widely for the voter to consider) . South Africa has 9 provinces.

They have a bicameral legislature made up of an Upper House, also known as the ‘National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and a Lower House also referred to as the National Assembly. Whereas the Lower House, has 400 seats, the Upper House, has 90 seats occupied by 10 members from each province. In terms of the electoral formula, South Africa uses a version of the Droop Quota method. So for the provincial seats for instance, the quota is determined, for each province by dividing the total number of votes in that province by the total number of seats in that province. For the national seats, the quota is determined by dividing the total number of votes in the country by the total number of national seats .

Years down the line in practice, it could be seen that Ghana’s 1992 constitution, unlike the 1996 constitution of South Africa has not achieved its objective of a multiparty democratic state. At best, it has only pretended to give its people a democracy when in reality it has left them with a dictatorship of two parties because of the First Past the Post electoral system. In contrast South Africa has stayed the course. Chosen for “its inclusiveness, its simplicity, and its tendency to encourage coalition government (Lodge, 2003),” it could be seen that South Africa’s Proportional Representation electoral system has delivered just that. It has produced a more democratic, politically inclusive and accountable system than that of Ghana’s First Past the Post electoral system. For instance, whilst the South African Proportional Representation system has produced a truly multiparty democratic state with up to 14 parties represented in their National Assembly, Ghana’s First Past the Post electoral system has rather killed all other political parties, except—the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the only two parties represented in parliament.

Even as some would have us believe that there have been some conscious attempts at inclusion as was seen in President Kufuor’s appointment of the People’s National Convention’s (PNC) Mallam Issah as Minister of Sports and the Convention People’s Party’s (CPP) Papa Kwesi Nduom as Minister for Public Sector Reforms or President Akufu-Addo’s appointment of PNC’s Dr. Edward Mahama as Ambassador at Large, the reality is that these spasmodic appointments have rather had disastrous consequences on the credibility of these minor parties. As the dwindling fortunes of the CPP and PNC have shown, political inclusion that comes at the benevolence of the NPP and NDC has resulted in the depletion of the confidence of the masses in those parties.

Such associations have rather triggered the perception of a sell-out or betrayal of the cause. The Wikileaks cables confirm that what the masses may have long held as a perception is actually a reality. The cables reveal how the NDC planned to merge the two most important minor parties at the time, the CPP and PNC into the NDC fold, basically turning Ghanaian politics into a two-party system. In the leaks, then Foreign Minister Hannah Tetteh confirmed that in 2008 the NDC had paid dearly to obtain the votes of the two PNC members in Parliament, saying that in addition to accommodating the party with district, commission, and ambassadorial positions, both MP’s would be receiving Deputy Ministerial jobs in return for their agreement to sit with the NDC to constitute a legislative majority. She also noted that the party was courting Alhaji Saani Iddi, then Independent MP from Wulensi in the Northern Region, but that so far his demands (for both position and money) were unreasonable. Describing CPP’s only MP and later National Chairperson, Samia Nkrumah (Kwame Nkrumah’s daughter, who had joined neither majority (NDC) nor minority (NPP) in parliament, and had pledged to vote on issues based on their merit), Hannah Tetteh simply shook her head and said “that girl is going to have a lot to learn.” Clearly, the system discourages politicians from upholding higher standards of integrity or pursuing an independent path and standing up for their convictions.

Ghana’s FPTP electoral system has proved to be pretentious and wasteful in practice. It is the case in Ghana that most MP’s choose their party’s take on issues over the national interest or views of their constituents. So they go to Parliament not to represent the people but their parties. Yet, so much money is wasted in campaigns at the constituencies just for one to become a Member of Parliament.

This Constitutional arrangement makes it difficult for the country to benefit from its great human resource capital, as many who may not be financially endowed but intellectually resourced and competent are completely weeded out of the centre unto the periphery of our politics. In contrast, South Africa takes an honest approach based on the party-list Proportional Representation electoral system, where voters know right from the onset that they are voting for parties, and not for individuals. In Ghana it is common to hear some voters say that they are prepared to vote for a goat branded in a particular party’s colour than for a human being. This means that opting for Proportional Representation in Ghana will neither be “confusing” as some (such as Gyampo, 2015) have awkwardly argued nor will it necessarily hurt the fortunes of the established political parties. What Proportional Representation will simply do is to give a chance to the minority and marginalised in society to be represented in parliament.

From the South African example, it can be deduced that Proportional Representation more faithfully reflects the views of the people. Not having the Proportional Representation system deprives many and sometimes the majority of the electorates a voice. Proportional Representation allows a wider variety of views to be heard and considered. Ultimately the plurality produces more nuanced discussions which will ensure greater balance and more robust debates which are healthier for society, leading to greater transparency in governance and effective decision making.

Proportional Representation promotes a merit-based system. Political Scientists in Ghana like Prof Gyampo have argued that Proportional Representation “will encourage the unnecessary proliferation of groups” (Gyampo, 2016). Even if this is the case, what is the real fear here if one is a true democrat? While the assertion may hold true theoretically the reality reflects otherwise. Significant in this year’s South African election was the disastrous showing of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), a party launched by the biggest trade union in South Africa—NUMSA, with nearly 400,000 members, receiving a miserable 24,000 votes nationally, or 0.14 percent! So yes, you may be able to constitute a party but securing the votes of the people is a different ballgame. There’s no gainsaying that the EFF worked really hard and deserves every seat they got since their entry into the National Assembly of South Africa in 2014. Indeed there are some who feel disappointed by the number of votes the EFF got in the recently held general election despite their hard work both in Parliament and in their campaigns. It is however obvious by the same results that the people are ready to reward hard work when they see a party fighting for their best interest in Parliament.

Proportional Representation promotes public accountability because it allows more divergent voices. The EFF’s “pay back the money” campaign for instance forced former president Jacob Zuma to pay back part of the money that was looted and used on his private mansion in Nkandla. Subsequently, with the ANC unable to contain the embarrassment he had brought upon himself and the high office, he was forced to resign.

It is inevitable in the First Past the Post system that a two-party system eventually emerges because it is the only way to achieve the 50% 1 votes necessary to govern. In Ghana this has led to unbridled polarization that threatens the peace and security of the country year after year. The Proportional Representation system will escape the wild pendulum swings of Ghana’s two-party system. In contrast, experience in Europe shows that Proportional Representation electoral systems offer higher economic performance while being more socially inclusive, than their First Past the Post counterparts.

Under Ghana’s First Past the Post system it is becoming increasingly clear to people that their vote doesn’t count. This has given rise to the idea of third-party movements like the Economic Fighters League (Fighters), the Ghana Union Movement (GUM), People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) and The People’s Project (TPP), all aiming at galvanising the people against the NDC and the NPP. As more and more people get galvanised and conscientised, voter apathy will set in, and all will be set for the system to explode.

Results of the 2016 general election show that NDC got 44.4% and NPP got 53.9%. Under the Proportional Representation electoral system the NDC would have had 122 seats instead of the 106 seats it currently has in parliament; and the NPP would have had 148 seats instead of the 169 seats it currently has in parliament. The Progressive People’s Party (PPP) would have been in Parliament with 3 seats while the CPP and PNC would have had one seat each. The National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Independent Candidate would have had no seat at all .

The Proportional Representation system should also apply to the District Chief Executive elections (DCE’s) to give better political representation to different views. Where we are considering the adoption of a second chamber as in the case of South Africa, our Council of State could become the Upper House. Each region could have up to five (5) representatives produced by the Regions.

Under the First Past the Post electoral system in Ghana there has been several instances of how the two parties; NDC and NPP have colluded to dupe the state. For example on ex-gratia, car loans and rent allowance to MP’s; on oil blocks and mineral concessions; on tax waivers to foreign companies; the double salary scandal; the more than 20 year delay in the passage of the Right To Information bill into law; the dangerous foreign pacts such as the US-Ghana Colonisation pact. All of these have come at a great cost to our nation and future generations. We need a voice of conscience in parliament at all times to blow the whistle on the thieves and to keep the people alert as the EFF is doing in South Africa. If we approach this conversation with honesty Ghana’s interest will be protected. It would no longer be about reforming the winner takes all system as some dishonest intellectuals have suggested, it would be about the total replacement. After all, if something is bad why vary it when it can be replaced?

REFERENCES
Gyampo REV. Proportional Representation: A Solution to winner-Takes-All Politics in Ghana? A publication of the Institute of Economic Affairs. 2016; 21(01): January/February 2016
Lodge, T. 2003. How the South African Electoral System was Negotiated. Journal of African Elections 2 (1):71-76.
Republic of Ghana (1991), Report of the Committee of Experts (constitution) on Proposals for a Draft Constitution of Ghana Presented to the PNDC July 31, 1991
Teorell, J & Lindstedt, C. 2010. Measuring electoral systems. Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 63, No2. (pp. 434-448).
Van Gyampo RE. Dealing with Ghana’s winner-takes-all politics: A case for proportional representation? The Journal of Social Sciences Research. 2015; 1(14): 41-46
South Africa 1996 Constitution

Ghana 1992 Constitution

INTERNET SOURCES
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09ACCRA29_a.html
https://hsf.org.za/publications/hsf-briefs/the-south-african-electoral-system

https://www.marxist.com/south-africa-elections-2019-widespread-fury-and-big-gains-for-the-eff.htm

Jonathan Lundell & ID Hill's 'Notes on the Droop Quota' http://www.votingmatters.org.uk/ISSUE24/I24P2.pdf

By: Ernesto Yeboah
Leader, Economic Fighters League (Fighters)



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