12 March 2003
The Cabinet has decided to retain the current 400-member National Assembly as well as the present proportional representation electoral system for the 2004 elections.
The decision, taken last week, follows the recommendations made by the task team instituted by President Thabo Mbeki in 2002 to formulate parameters for a new electoral system in the country.
Releasing its final report in Cape Town this week, the team, headed by Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, recommended that South Africa be divided into 69 constituencies, each with three to seven MPs, for future parliamentary polls.
However, it said it realised there was no way this could be implemented in time for the 2004 general elections.
According to the task team’s recommendations, the boundaries of the 69 constituencies would be drawn along existing provincial, municipal and metropolitan boundaries.
Political parties would then draw up lists of constituency candidates similar to the provincial and national lists used in the current system. The constituency representatives would account for 300 members of the National Assembly, the remaining 100 being drawn from a closed national list.
The new system, which is likely to be used for the first time in the 2009 polls, will replace the proportional representation system used in the 1994 and 1999 general elections.
Briefing the media following the release of the report, Van Zyl Slabbert said consensus was reached that changes to the current electoral system should be evaluated in terms of the values of fairness, inclusiveness, simplicity and accountability.
Referring to the question of floor-crossing legislation that is currently being debated in Parliament, Van Zyl Slabbert said the majority view was that the current system was opportunistic and inappropriate and did an injustice to the principle of proportionality.
“If the accessibility and distance between the voter and representative is taken as the guiding principle, then floor-crossing can be considered. There is nothing inherently undemocratic about it, it depends very much on the kind of electoral system”, Van Zyl Slabbert said.
Also addressing journalists, Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the electoral task team report brings a new and better electoral system that will further promote democracy in the country.
“From the outset, my view was that by establishing a task team, the debate and drafting on new legislation would be moved away from political tensions and truly reflect the needs of our democracy and the views of civil society”, the minister said.
According to last week’s Cabinet statement, the new government elected in 2004 will review the report in preparation for the 2009 elections.