The debate around the appropriate electoral system for South Africa still continues. The proposed conference, to be hosted by EISA and the Konrad-Anenauer-Stiftung (KAS), aims to contribute to this debate. The primary goal is to bring stakeholders together to explore available options for the electoral reform process in South Africa. The specific objectives of the Conference are to:
While the significance of an electoral system to democracy is not a contested issue in both policy and academic circles, there is no consensus regarding what constitutes a perfect electoral model for sustainable democracy. In fact, throughout the world, there are many varieties of electoral systems; there is no single system that may be deemed perfect or totally imperfect given that the circumstances of each country tend to influence the adoption of a particular electoral system. In many African countries, electoral systems that are in place today were inherited from colonial administrations and have hardly been reformed to reflect national contexts. Many African countries face the challenge of deliberately reviewing their electoral systems and reforming them accordingly so that they are attuned to the national political culture and add to sustainable democracy.
In order to provide guidance on how best to go about reforming electoral systems with a clearly defined vision and objectives, Reynolds, Reilly and Ellis isolate ten key criteria:
This provides a broad menu of issues that should inform electoral system reforms. They may not all apply in each case. Some would apply more forcefully than others depending upon the circumstances of each country. Debate on electoral reform options in South Africa should be understood in this context.
South Africa underwent a major political transformation with the demise of apartheid and the introduction of a democratic dispensation and the Government of National Unity (GNU) led by the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994. Part of this political transformation involved the reform of the country's electoral system. During the apartheid minority rule, South Africa operated the constituency-based single-member plurality system, also known as the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system. With the demise of apartheid and the onset of democratic government, this system was changed and the party list Proportional Representation (PR) system was adopted. Some five years into the country's democratic transition, debate began to rage around whether or not the PR system was serving the country's young democracy well and whether or not there was a need to reform the model once more towards a mixture of PR and FPTP. At the heart of all these debates was the concern that the party list PR system tends to reinforce the dominance of parties and that individual Members of Parliament (MPs) become beholden to party leaders and less so to the electorate. This concern is linked to the second which critiques the extent to which citizens may effectively hold MPs accountable under the PR system.