Proportional representation is best for Sierra Leone

Charlie J. Hughes: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 July 2022:

When Sierra Leoneans go the polls in June 2023 it will be the country’s fifth routine multiparty elections since 2002. Sierra Leone has achieved a great feat that would be the envy of most countries on the continent.

While arguments can always be made about the quality of governance in any country, Sierra Leoneans still put their trust in multiparty politics (see Afrobarometer survey).

Sierra Leoneans’ trust in multiparty politics, however, should not disguise our unease with certain failures of electoral politics over the years. While every election since 2002 has been declared free and fair, they have been accompanied by circumstances of uncivil politics, mobilization of hate constituencies, and sporadic violence.

The upcoming 2023 general elections should provide us an opportunity to re-set electoral politics; with a fundamental purpose to minimise the utility of rancor, hate, and violence. The opportunity for re-set of electoral politics lies in the parliamentary representation system that we opt for in 2023.

All over the world countries do electoral engineering from time to time to respond to changed or emerging contexts. After four multiparty general elections in Sierra Leone, the evidence is abundant that single-member constituency representation is fraught with discomforts at several levels.

While other issues including high levels of illiteracy and poverty remain at play, it is also a fact that the challenges of uncivil politics in Sierra Leone are significantly hinged on the single-member constituency system. First, single-member constituency is immanently prone to the utility of rancor, divisiveness and hate constituencies.

In contradistinction to single-member constituency system, multi-member representation systems including Proportional Representation, dissuades rancor significantly in one critical way.

The fact that everybody will be represented under their preferred party means there is no question of winning at all costs for anybody; a key driver of violence, rancor and divisiveness. Everybody wins irrespective of any imbalance in the proportion of representation of the different parties.

Single-member constituency representation often warrants expensive campaigns by contestants. Some would cynically suggest that money does not guarantee success at the polls for those seeking parliamentary seats. While this may be true, the abundance of experience points to the fact that a vast majority of candidates decry the cost of their election campaigns. Proportional Representation does not bring huge campaign costs to bear on individual candidates.

The high costs of single-member constituency elections also extend to the state. Take the case where at least a dozen bye-elections have been held in Sierra Leone since 2018; and the associated costs that the Electoral Commission and Law Enforcement agencies have borne. It runs into billions of Leones. An appropriately devised Proportional Representation system dispenses with bye-elections and the associated costs.

Single-member constituency representation is grossly inefficient in broadening representation across a constituency. Around the world representation democracy has been a default resort in the circumstances today where it is impossible to have every adult man and woman sit at the table to discuss public interest matters.

The aspiration, however, remains that as far as possible every citizen gets represented at the table where public interest matters are discussed. Single-member constituency representation has serious limitations in broadening representation in this regard.

Take the case where in a straight two-party contest, one person wins 51% of the votes and takes the parliamentary seat; leaving 49% unrepresented under their preferred party. A Proportional Representation system would ensure that both the ‘small majority’ and the ‘huge minority’ are represented in Parliament.

In the circumstances of other binding constraints, the single-member constituency representation is grossly inefficient in promoting women’s representation in Parliament. For instance, although the policy frameworks now exist for promoting women’s presence in elective office in the country, the single-member constituency system is going to remain unhelpful. Proportional representation on the other hand can easily accommodate our aspirations for increased representation of women in Parliament.

I am not oblivious of the difficulty of promoting consensus uptake of country-serving policy solutions in Sierra Leone today. While the ruling party has shown little interest in   seeking or co-creating prior-legitimation of political decisions, the opposition has recklessly reduced its role to making sure that nothing works.

Sadly, even civil society organisations, some intellectuals, and many ordinary citizens are now willfully stalled in this binary. It should be pointed out however, that any political stance won by the ruling party or opposition parties on the strength of disruption, force and disregard for prior-secured legitimacy is temporal and a recipe for discontent.

Where the country chooses to go with Proportional Representation, the first win for all Sierra Leoneans will be the annulment of the rancor and rudeness that await us around constituency boundaries delineation for the 2023 elections.

5 Comments

  1. Whether is first past the post, proportional representation, or military dictatorship, or royalty, is nothing wrong with the present system is the people that is in control of the system and the mindset of Sierra leoneans that needs a radical change .Every vote matters. One of the reason elections are held is to enable the citizens of the state to hold their elected representative to account. And for us to able to do that ,the three arms of government the executive, the legislator , the elected body that pass the laws that govern the states and the judiciary the body responsible to interpret those laws should not only work independently of each other but they have to work to serve the interest of the people that put them there in the first place . And they are reminded of that in every election cycle. Power rest with the people not the politicians and their hangers on .To put it bluntly is not the system is the people. The reasons why the PR. system have now been muted, is because Bio and our other elected representative have failed us massively. Bio promised he will take us to the promise land. Unfortunately he has taken us to the road to nowhere .

    Our elected representatives have abused the trust of the people place upon them. There is no electoral system practise throughout the world that will stop corrupt politicians from being elected in our parliamentary chamber .Everything to make us a thriving democracy,with elected representatives and respect for the rule of law , an independent judiciary ,citizens rights , a free press and most importantly respect for our Constitution, and election outcomes is embedded in our Constitution.So is up to me and you whether we respect our laws of the land as written in our Constitution or ignore them and become a Banana Republic where only the laws of the jungle applies .

  2. I stand with Mr Sahr Matturi the PR system sound goods if well understood; I think the government should have tried to sensitized the public about the PR system properly. Is good really but let not rush into it we are still in the learning stage of democracy. .

  3. We have more pressing issues than PR or past the post. Hunger, illiteracy, high infant mortality, an archaic land tenure system. Yet, we have people coming out in droves for this land tenure system masquerading as concerned intelligentsia. Methinks these are corrupt folks, who have been promised positions.
    You are leading this country to anarchy.

  4. Thank you very much, Mr Charlie J. Hughes, for informing us about the pros of the PR system. I appreciate that. Could you please give some pros of the single-member constituency representation?
    The problem with the government’s PR system is that they did not give enough time for meaningful discussions. We can have a PR system with our variant that could be acceptable to most Sierra Leoneans. To achieve that, we need consultation among ourselves and put it to a referendum where possible. As I see it, they will take power away from our people, and smaller parties will hold the ruling party to Ransome for their interests. So, you have a business or deal type situation introduced in our electoral system of the governing process. People say that the PR system will get rid of by-elections. I doubt that.
    Take Israel, for example. Israel is one country that frequently goes to the polls to elect a new government. One of the smaller parties takes a second to pull the plug in a coalition government, and the polls are open again. That is very expensive in my view.
    We should not abandon the present system if we don’t discuss this PR system thorough and come out with a variant that will work for our democracy and our country. We should also take the mindset of the majority of Sierra Leoneans into consideration. Our people have been used to the present system for decades. So taking it away from them without making the comparison between the PR system we want to introduce will be a problem in my view. I agree that the PR system has its pros, but let’s take our time before bumping into it.
    So, let’s continue with the discussion honestly. We will find a solution at the end of the day. But let’s don’t rush it.
    Finally, let’s not forget that democracy takes time. We have not even passed the test of the present system. So, introducing a system with such controversies on all sides will be a recipe for political confusion and electoral problems. So, let’s leave the present system in place for now and continue the debate on the PR system till we find a variant that will suit our country and its people. God bless Sierra Leone and Mr Charlie J. Hughes. Yeah.

  5. Truth to be told, i am really at lost, trying very hard to wrap my head around on the sudden focus and interest being directed by the current regime in changing our electoral laws or methods of electing our members of parliament. Other than the flimsy arguments of minimizing the inherit nature of elections, for that matter any competition or contest, which are financial cost and high tension, can someone explain to me how the new propose system will bring power closer to the electorates? In other words, will the new system forces members of parliament to be more accountable to their electorates, as oppose to party grandees and other special interest groups with deep pockets?

    If democracy is define as government of the people, by the people, and for the people, tell me exactly how electorates will have a seat at the table, if their voting exercise only guarantee them a political party of their choice, not an actual human being of their choice, whom they could actually relates to or call to, with the options of reminding the member of representation that, his/her job could be in jeopardy if things are not done different for the electorates. In the same light, if the electorates are at odds with a particular member of parliament, tell me exactly what avenues of redress or democratic tools are available to such citizens, if the party hierarchy holds all the cards?

    As a quick comparison, members of representatives in America, the beacon of democracy, are elected for every 2years, representing congressional districts, which are the equivalents to constituencies in our nation. Prior to a slated general election, political parties will usually conduct internal elections known as, ‘primaries’ to elect which party member will represent them in the general election for the constituency or congressional district. General elections are then conducted, with the winning candidate caucusing with his/her political party; hence ensuring accountability both within the party and the general electorates. These are the type of democratic processes we should aspire to emulate, not erasing or walking back the democratic credentials we have built over the years.

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