Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Friday, January 15, 2010

Changing Congo's electoral law

At the inter-institutional meeting held recently in Mbuji Mayi, President Kabila indicated that he wants to change several aspects of the constitution. As mentioned previously here, the official changes to the constitution make sense: according to the text, the country was supposed to have been split up into 26 provinces and have decentralized governance within 3 years of the inauguration of the new government, i.e. now. It hasn't happened, so there needs to be a constitutional amendment to decide what to do. Of course, there are also rumors that the "Rais" wants to change the term limits, but apparently he has given up on that battle for now.

Kabila also mentioned, however, that he wants to change the electoral law from proportional representation to a winner-takes-all system. He is unhappy with the huge number of small, unruly parties in the national assembly that has made it difficult to create strong coalitions. In other words, until now in many electoral districts there were more than one seat up for election - each parties submitted their list of candidates and the seats were distributed to the candidates with the highest vote share. In some cases, there were up to 17 seats (in the case of Kinshasa) up for grabs in an electoral district. This, along with the fact that candidates at the top of a electoral can "give" some of their surplus votes to the following candidates on their party list (i.e. if a candidate needs 3,000 votes to get elected and he gets 9,000, he can bring along with him 2 other members of his party), has produced a parliament in which some members have very few votes and with an enormous number of very small parties.

A quick glance: there are 70 parties represented in the national assembly, as well as 63 independents. A full 250 of the MPs won less than 10% of the vote in their district, Around 150 won less than 5% of the vote. I wasn't able to gauge, however, which parties would be particularly affected if, as Kabila proposes, he reduces the number of seats per district to one (the American system). Many small parties and independents would still have been elected during the last elections, although some, such as the RCD and Camp de la Patrie would probably have lost most of their seats. It remains to be seen whether Kabila would leave the number of seats and create new, smaller electoral districts (in which case, Kinshasa would end up having as many as 58 electoral districts) or leave the districts as they are and reduce the number of MPs in the national assembly. Depending on which option they decide on, the consequences would change.

Imagine, for example, they kept the district size and reduced the number of seats in the 2006 elections:
  • South Kivu, which currently has 32 seats, would only have 9. Instead of having 13 parties represented, you would have only 3, with the PPRD taking the lion's share (7) seats.
  • North Kivu, you would have 9 seats instead of the current 48, with four parties represented instead of 12 - the PPRD taking 6 seats and FR, PANADI and independent taking the rest.
  • Kasai Oriental, home of small parties, you would have 18 seats instead of the current 39. Instead of 18 parties represented, you would have 13. In other words, little change here.
  • In Bas Congo, you would have 12 instead of 24 seats. Instead of having 13 parties you would have 10, so also little change here.
So in the Kivus, there would be a sharp decline in smaller parties to the benefit of the PPRD, whereas elsewhere there would be little change. Proportionally, as the districts with many seats now are big cities, the weight would shift to rural districts with only one seat. In some areas, it could also disadvantage minorities, as they would no longer be able to get their candidate through (although not really the Tutsi, as they have few candidates get through as it was). The national assembly would also be much smaller, more manageable and less expensive to buy off (this is currently a huge expense for Kabila).

If this system is proposed, there would have to be a change in the way seats are distributed - Maniema with 650,000 voters would have almost as many seats as North Kivu with 2,5 million voters.

Now imagine that the system would change to maintain the number of seats in parliament but make many new congressional districts. This would raise the controversial question of district boundaries and gerrymandering, which would be sure to raise hackles on necks. In Kinshasa, you would create 17 districts out of one, in Bukavu 5 out of 1. Given the ethnic way neighborhoods in many cities are settled, this could lead candidates to resort increasingly to ethnic-based hate speech, but it would also make campaigning cheaper for each candidate, as they would have less ground to cover.

All this is conjecture based on the way things played out in the 2006 elections. My guess is that the dynamics of the 2011 elections will be very different in terms of funding, who runs the elections, the kinds of coalitions formed, etc. But food for thought.


Sam Gardner said...

It is strange there is a complaint about "too many small parties" I thought the Presidents'party had an absolute majority in parliament. So what is the complaint about the small parties? In multi-ethnic environments it is necessary to give minorities at least some voice, and, in general, better in the Parliament than outside, with a gun.
A proportional system with lists leads to more discussion along the line of principles than purely on personalities (and patronage).

Jason Stearns said...

Kabila doesn't have one party - he ran at the head of the AMP coalition, which includes several dozen smaller parties and one big party, the PPRD. He has had a hard time controlling this majority, as each of whom wants a piece of the pie. Last time I looked, the AMP included 30 parties and 23 independent MPs in the national assembly.

Anonymous said...

Also interesting to note that this meeting was
held in Mbuji Mayi only 50 Kms or so from Kabeya Kamwanga--the birth place of Mr. Tshisekedi, one of the founders and the leader of UDPS.

During the Transition and elections Mr. Tshisekedi spoke out about the problems with the Constitution, the electoral process, the multitude of parties, the issue of citizenship...

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