Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body.
Through Statutory Instrument 85 of 2013, the Electoral Act was amended to give birth to proportional representation in the allocation of seats in the senate, national assembly and provincial councils.
Process of Proportional Representation
It is a quota method of transferring votes into seats in a legislative body. This effectively means that when a voter casts a vote for a particular candidate who is standing for election in a National Assembly constituency, that one vote will be counted in four separate elections.
First, the election of the constituency candidate for whom the voter actually cast his or her vote. The vote will then count towards the election of one of the women candidates put forward by the party whom the constituency candidate represents.
“In other words, if a voter votes for a constituency candidate who represents Party A, that vote will also go towards electing one of the six women candidates whom Party A has listed as candidates for election to the National Assembly in the province concerned,” says Veritas Zimbabwe.
“Thirdly and similarly, the vote will count towards the election of one of the six Senators whom the constituency candidate’s party has listed for election to the Senate in the province.”
Finally, the vote will count towards the election of the party’s candidates in the provincial council election in the province. This is in line with the new Constitution of Zimbabwe which provides that 60 national assembly seats are reserved for women (six from each of the 10 provinces), 60 senatorial and 10 persons on each provincial council on the basis of proportional representation.
There are a number of systems which can be used for proportional representation. In Zimbabwe single-member constituencies (first-past-the-post, FPTP) is the widely used system although variants have been lifted off the list proportional representation (List PR) to go along with FPTP.
The eighth schedule of Statutory Instrument 85 states that a participating party will be required to nominate a party list of candidates for the national assembly, provincial council and senate. Provincial election officers will then list the political parties starting with the one with the highest number of votes ending with the party that received the least votes. In this system an electoral district is made up of three constituencies.
After determining the number of votes cast for each of the candidates, the provincial election officers will come up with a quota by dividing the total number of votes by the number of seats being contested, which are six in the senate and six in the national assembly and 10 in the provincial council. This is done after ascertaining the total number of votes.
Each political party will then be allocated a seat for each number of votes that constitute the quota in the first stage while in the second stage seats will be allocated to a political party with the greatest number of unallocated votes. For example, for the 60 national assembly seats, the provincial election officer will determine the quota by dividing the total number of votes cast for the participating parties by the number six (the number of seats).
According to the amendment the number of votes cast for each of the remaining political parties is then divided by the quota to determine the number of seats to be provisionally allocated to each party and to ascertain the number of votes which remain unallocated. If after the allocation of seats from the division of the votes cast by the quota, less than 10 seats have been allocated, the provincial election officers will allocate the remaining seats to the parties with the highest number of unallocated votes.
Unallocated votes are the remainder that comes up after dividing the votes cast for each political party by the quota. Some of the advantages of this system are that it is simple and can also avoid a by-election if an elected member vacates the seat or die. The system also ensures better representation of women. It should however be noted that the 60 seats reserved for women is temporary and is set to expire in 2022. This system was however criticized for marginalising independent candidates and small parties as well as minimising choice.
Proportional Representation challenges
In Zimbabwe, the women’s proportional representation policy, in its current format and nature has failed to politically empower women. Researches have indicated that there was no direct relationship between increased women participation in politics and democracy, others have also argued further that there was no direct correlation between women’s participation in politics and economic development, at least at a macro level.
The Zimbabwe constitutional women’s quota system was designed to empower women through increasing the number of women in political positions by reserving seats specifically to be occupied by women. This policy managed to numerically increase women’s representation in parliament from 18% in 2008 to an average of 35% in the 2013/2018 electoral cycles. As an empowerment tool, the quota system has to be looked at and evaluated on various levels apart from just the numerical representativeness in parliament.
The evidence is abundant that in Zimbabwe this guided democracy approach has not yielded much fruit apart from the increase in numerical representation of women in political positions (particularly the National Assembly and Senate). The proportional representation system has been used by elite women in various political parties to retain power and parliamentary positions. Of the female MPs who were in parliament in 2013 on the proportional representation ticket, 75% of them returned to parliament in 2018 on the same ticket.
In real terms then, it can be concluded that the quota system has not increased the number of women entering and or participating in politics. The quota system benefited women who were already in politics and strategically positioned in parties, thus only cemented their hold on power through extending their stay in office.
Scholars and even some parliamentarians agree that women who have been privileged to join politics through quotas have not been afforded equal respect as their other counterparts who are in parliament through the ballot. Proportional representative parliamentarians are viewed as being in the house for tokenism as a favour and not through merit. While the quota system was introduced in 2013 and led to an increase in women in parliament and senate, there however exists no direct relationship between quota system and gender equality in terms of allocation, access and control of political resources.
Participation by the proportional representation parliamentarians and Senators in deliberation in their respective houses is said to be very low and their visibility and participation is close to non-existent at constituency level. On the 12th of March 2019 when the motion for the extension of the proportional representation policy was being debated, only five female legislators excluding the Deputy Speaker officially spoke (debating, raising a point of order, a point of privilege, seconding motions or even seeking clarifications) in the National Assembly compared to 20 male legislators.