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Is Our Political System Fit For Purpose?

Coen van Wyk

Posted on February 3, 2019 13:09

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Modern democracy is pretty much based on political parties. But are voters getting lost in the process? Parties have become political corporations who primarily aim at survival and growth. New technology voters provides better ways for voters to bypass structures, to express themselves. The time has come to look again at the political systems that determine our politics.

South Africa will soon hold national elections. A date somewhere in March is expected to be announced, and preparations are already well underway. Infighting in political parties, jockeying for positions are on all news sites. The ruling African National Congress attracted the most attention with its ‘list conferences’ that were contested by various factions, while other parties’ lists were arrived at with more elegance. It may be that foreign observers and democrats are unfamiliar with this term.

Delegates, ANC list conference. ENCA

 

Our electoral system, for reasons of history and demographics, is constructed around the “scrutin de liste” system, where parties draw up lists of representatives, and the electorate choose between parties. Unfortunately this has the effect that representatives develop a career based on loyalty to the party and not the electorate.

Democratic Alliance list conference. Nokuthula Mbatha/IOL


Serial corruption among political leaders has prompted various observers recently to suggest that this system needs reform. In 2003 an erstwhile Leader of the Opposition, Dr F van Zyl Slabbert headed a Commission of Enquiry to suggest ways in which Parliament could be made more representative and transparent. Its report was swept under the carpet, but is again being proposed. In the meantime electoral lists are the subject of court cases and infighting, as they are seen as a gateway to lucrative places on the gravy train.

Economic Freedom Fighters present their list. Getrude Makhafola/ANA

South Africa is not alone: the seemingly pointless and endless infighting around Brexit that has paralyzed the British Parliament around technical details of borders that should not be borders gave rise to observers calling it ‘fantasy politics’. In the meantime the vaunted National Health system is under severe and growing pressure. One man resorted to DIY dentistry.

British Parliament. BBC

 

I am not well versed in the inner workings of the American political system, but it seems that a “little girl with the big mouth” has stepped on a sore toe by challenging the Democratic party, and by implication the system of party-political control that characterizes the political class in general.

A new face to politics? NBC

While the recent Government shutdown is perhaps too recent to comment on, it seems that 81% of Americans disapproved of the 2013 shutdown. A representative was quoted as saying: “We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is.” I think the “we” referred to was not the voters.   

My expectation is that the South African political system has not found its low points yet, and that the deckchairs will be rearranged for some time to come. The political corporations are in a comfort zone. Not so in the UK: I would dare to predict that Brexit will spell the demise of the current leading political structures. And in the US? I look forward to watching the drama unfold.

Coen van Wyk

Posted on February 3, 2019 13:09

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Source: BBC

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