OPINION: Proportional Representation way to go for a truly representative Parliament

By Michael Cherambos

Since the creation of representative democracy, many thinkers, philosophers and statesmen have tinkered with the idea of how best to constitute a representative assembly.

One of the earliest, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, the Count of Mirabeau, one of the leaders of the French Revolution at its original stage, said, at the Assembly of Provence in 1789, that “A representative body is to the nation what a chart is for the physical configuration of its soil: in all its parts, and as a whole, the representative body should at all times present a reduced picture of the people, their opinions, aspirations, and wishes, and that presentation should bear the relative proportion to the original precisely.”

We all know that in our nation, two Kenyans means three opinions.

We come from such a wide variety of backgrounds, and each nuance to our differences shapes our thoughts and ideologies. Our tribal, regional and religious backgrounds have meant in the past that we were at loggerheads with one another, especially on issues like the Mount Kenya area, which has long known its fair share of turmoil and mistrust.

Throughout Kenyan history, these issues have been dealt with according to the needs, requirements and wishes of the ruling party of the time, which of course had its own interests and has all too frequently been uninterested in hearing contrary points of view. That is our current winner-takes-all system.

However, there is another way.

As Riqueti made clear almost two and a half centuries ago, the idea of a representative body is to truly represent the people in all matters, warts and all. If the majority want a certain type of policy, but there is still a significant yet minority constituency that feels differently, that community should still have a seat at the table.

This allows for a spirit of engagement and hopefully compromise.

This is what was sorely missing from our politics, until the famous handshake.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta reached out and shook the hand of de-facto Opposition leader Raila Odinga he wasn’t just shaking the hand of one man, but shaking the hand and embracing all those who stand behind him.
Raila has a massive following, even though he has never gained enough of a majority to rule.

So, instead of just ignoring almost half of the nation, Uhuru brought him and those who support him into the new tent the president was building. Raila was soon joined by other opposition leaders and the tent of representation was widened to accommodate all who sought it.

Having formed the Building Bridges Initiative, the key is now to create a system which doesn’t leave politics to the whims of the elected leadership only. We are lucky that we have a president who seeks consensus, engagement and compromise, but that may well not always be the case.

So the BBI set out to learn from the people and formulate ideas about how the handshake, the widening of the political big tent that Uhuru created and the initiative itself could be manifested into creating a more fair, equal, but most importantly, representative politics.

It is clear when looking at the various systems around the world, that the most representative is Proportional Representation.

Almost 90 nations, almost half of all nations on the planet, including many on our continent, use this system.

The reasons are simple.

There will be no more minority majorities in parliament. We have a system whereby the majority of people vote for parties other than the one that rules, but in a proportional representation system, each party will receive exactly the percentage of those who voted for it.

Every vote will count. At the moment, all those who cast a ballot for a party which loses in a particular region has their vote thrown away. In a proportional representation system, every vote will count towards the ultimate tally.

Compromise is at the heart of politics. At the moment, the executive has too much power and rarely needs the assistance of others. Under proportional representation, coalitions will be formed, and compromises will have to be made taking into account the needs of a wider cross section of society.

Elected representation will mirror those that elect them. If a party receives ten percent of the vote then they will have ten percent of the seats in parliament, regardless of where their voters are. If they receive no more than a few percentages in many counties or almost 100 per cent in one, the results will remain the same and their proportion of power will not alter.

These and many more reasons are why Kenya needs to adopt proportional representation for the next elections.

If we want our elected officials to truly represent us, then each one must receive their seat directly from the people, as we intended it, in a representative and proportional manner.

As Riqueti put it, the assembly should be a replica of the people.

Mr Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues. Michaelcherambos1@gmail.com

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