February 4, 2004
Your Platform: Must the Winner Always Take All?
By Peter Mulira
Ever since the 1961 general elections which ushered in the
internal self-government of Ben Kiwanuka, election results in Uganda have been
The 1961 elections which were won by DP had been
effectively boycotted by Buganda leaving the winner with the slightest of
plurality votes in the region. This left the region psychologically isolated in
the national fold.
The subsequent independence elections in 1962 were again
won by the DP in the rest of the country but through an ingenious scheme devised
to hold indirect elections in Buganda. At the expense of DP, UPC was able to
acquire all the 21 seats from the region, this enabled it to gain the majority
of seats in the national assembly and thus form the first independence
government. DP was left out in the cold and felt cheated through an undemocratic
For 18 years the country did not hold elections until the
post-Amin elections which ushered in the second UPC administration in 1980.
However, popular belief held that the military Commission under Paulo Muwanga
stole the elections in favour of UPC and this led to the six-year bush-war.
Some interesting stories abound about the 1980 elections
but perhaps the most poignant one is the one about the urbane Wilson Okwenje (UPC)
who is said to have graciously conceded defeat to his DP rival in Tororo only to
find on reaching Kampala that the votes had been reversed in his favour and he
was the winner.
In the subsequent two general elections held under NRM/Movement
administration in 1996 and 2001, the losers claimed that they were cheated out
of their victory by the incumbent group. On this ground the multipartysts
boycotted the elections of 2001.
It is against such a background of unsatisfactory election
results, at least to a significant segment of our society, that one finds it
strange that, given that press reports are correct, the Constitutional Review
Commission recommended the continuance of the system of elections of
winner-take-all which has been practiced in all the previous elections. This is
many people, the cause of some of the country's problems.
The winner-take-all system of election which evolved in
Britain and was bequeathed to all its former colonies, including the United
States but excluding South Africa, has a number of short-comings among which is
the fact that it produces winners with minority votes and leaves in many cases
the majority "unrepresented."
For example in a constituency with 30,000 voters and five
candidates it is not unusual for a winner to scrape through with 12,000 votes
-less than 50% of the votes. Assuming that all the registered voters turned out
and voted, the winner will have had 18,000 votes against him and this group of
people will always feel unrepresented. This leads to lack of interest and low
turn-out in subsequent elections, especially where incumbent party candidates
are deemed to have an unfair advantage over others.
It is interesting to note that Britain, the US and France
are the only countries in the western democracies which use the winner-take-all
system of elections. But even so in Britain and the United States there is a
change to proportional representation taking place in local and municipal
elections. Semi-autonomous Scotland uses the Proportional Representation (PR
Under the PR system representatives are elected from
multi-seat districts in proportion to the number of votes received. This system
ensures that parties or candidates will have the percentage of legislative seats
that reflect their public support.
There are various types of the PR system but we find the
"list system" would be more manageable in Uganda's context if adopted.
Under this system the voters select one party and its slate of candidates to
represent them. If the party receives 50% of the votes it receives 50% of the
Translated into practical terms, if the law provides for
one representative per population of 20,000 people and a district is made up of
100,000 people that district will have five representatives in the legislature.
If party "A" wins 50% of the votes it will take three seats, necessary
adjustment being made in its favour to avoid the absurdity of a "fractional
As the country moves towards the multi-party democracy era
it is incumbent on us to ensure that each party will have better opportunities
of sending representatives to Parliament than has been the case with
winner-take-all type of elections. We should study the suitability of multi-seat
districts as the basis for electing our MPs. This calls for: -
lA shift from the concept of a constituency based on
counties. There is no apparent immortal logic in having constituencies based on
counties. We should move to new levels of aggregates of interests based on
larger geographical areas, in this case our administrative districts.
lThe party and its programmes should replace the
individuals as the criterion for election although personal charisma and ability
cannot be completely ruled out.
lThe MP's role should change from that of a jack-of-all
-trades to one of the representative of people's views as well as a specialised
legislator. Being freed from the affairs of county politics and administration
will enable our MPs more time to focus on specialised areas of national interest
lElectors should move away from the idea of owning their
representatives. After all in a winner-take-all situation not everybody votes
for the successful candidate. Voters should belong to a party of their choice
and not to "our man."
At the end of the day the percentages won by each party in
the district will reflect the composition of Parliament.
For example if party "A" wins 70% of the seats
in a Parliament of 210 members it will have a total of 147 members.
Should the president invite the leader of that party to be
prime minister and form a government as in France?
The PR system has merit. It encourages greater turn-out
because there are more choices for voters. It fosters a greater number of
minorities to be elected. In the US where winner-take-all is practiced only 11%
women were elected to legislative office in 1994. On the other hand in countries
with the PR system the percentage of women elected in the same year was much
higher as in, Sweden (41%), Finland (39%) and Norway (36%). this system is worth
introducing in Uganda if we are to get rid of the perennial short-comings
inherent in the winner-take-all system. But most pertinent is the fact that
introducing the PR system will not be a constitutional issue. It only requires
Parliament to amend the Election Law.
Bearing the above in mind I wish to recommend the
following changes in our electoral system: -
The idea of constituencies should be abolished and be
replaced by the district as the unit for electing representatives of Parliament.
Each MP should represent (or as the case may be) a minimum
number of people set down in the electoral law say 10,000 and this will
determine the total number of representatives per district. Thus if the district
has a population of 30,000 people it will be entitled to three MPs.
Candidature will be through political parties but
independent candidates will also be allowed.
A voter will have as many votes as the number of
representatives from the district.
A voter will be entitled to spread his votes among the
candidates standing or give them to one candidate/party
The first three, or as the case may be, candidates with
the highest votes will represent the district in parliament.
The writer is a lawyer and a minister in the Buganda