SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com
IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com

“ The floor plan for this place looks like a trading floor” one  newspaper journalist remarked. We looked around with renewed eyes and yes it did!  He had just come out for a break from doing spread sheets calculating which party is likely to get seats in parliament after the IEC had concluded its “mathematical calculation to allocate seats, a two stage process.”   There are left over seats? “Yes but you can’t use words like that, you have to be careful with how you word this practice – I wanted to say you can “buy” votes but  my newspaper would not allow it. It would be wrong to say that. All that you see on the board amounts to 400 seats in parliament, and the “left-over-seats” will be allocated to parties who are closer to the 45 thousands votes needed for the them to get a seat in parliament, so for example, though AGANG didn’t do that well they might end up having a three seats in parliament according to my calculations.”  He said. I asked the IEC guy in charge of doing the actual calculations to explain the mathematical equation to me. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked extremely tired, he didn’t want to be recorded. “It’s a mathematical calculation” he said as if expecting me to turn away. “We calculate according to decimal points. You know a decimal point… so if a party gets x amount point something, the figure after the point we go by the highest number after he decimal point, x point 6 is higher than x point two for example and we do that in stages” He said. So it’s possible that my vote for a smaller party could end up being allocated to another party in this rotational mathematical calculation system? “No, no that’s not how it works, be patient we’ll give you a press statement, today if you’re lucky” he said walking away. I was still none the wiser.  But here’s the formula, which happens in two stages:

CAN YOU TRANSLATE WORDS INTO NUMBERS?

The Seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region, a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the IEC determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region.  To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated by the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. It this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level to obtain the number regional lists seats allocated to each party.”

THE SECOND STAGE: THE LOTTO

This stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the national Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of seats in the National assembly, plus one. The result, plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this is smaller than the number of seats in the National assembly, unallocated seats in the National Assembly are awarded to the parties according to a descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.  The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.

DENUMERACY

“wow” I exclaimed feeling my brain expanding for the first time since I arrived at the IEC National Results Operation Center – “so it’s like gambling” I said, feeling instantly wide awake.  Yes agreed the newspaper journalist “it is”, “in fact” he added “it’s pretty much how corporate shares work, that’s why it’s often hard to for companies to know who gets what and it’s all about rounding it off the next 1000.” I had never heard it explained that way before. “So does that make the process more or less democratic?”

Well it depends said the newspaper guy, for one : smaller parties with 1 to 7 members can’t have a presence in all 53 parliamentary committees which meet on an almost daily basis. And they are more often than not out-voted. Yes their objections will be duly noted but it will not change the outcome of a vote if there is a cohort. You have to be strategic about how you use the parliamentary process in order to be effective.  You have to choose which committee you are likely to be most effective in or have the most impact. When it comes to voting bills into law (one of the jobs of Members of Parliament is to legislate) The DA for example employs various strategies. Thursday is the most important day in parliament, that’s the day when most bills are voted in, and it’s also the day when MPs from other regions want to go home early (for the weekend), so many of them are already on their way out, if 200 ANC MPs go home, and the DA is left with a 100 members who stayed they can in effect vote a bill into parliament or walk-out to delay the process if there is not cohort. Not all parliamentary members need to be in, you must have at least 200 cohorts’ votes for a bill to be voted into law. It’s a tricky game but I love it. From his description it sounded a bit like being back in school or university except this time you re not judged on personal merit but on the political party you belong to. But I guess it’s all the same.

“HISTORY IS A SET OF LIES AGREED UPON” Napoleon  Bonaparte

So there you have it, democracy (majority rule) in a nutshell from a journalist who has been doing this job for 13 years.  This conversation left me animated, so infused renewed understanding I wished I had met him five days before the elections.  It left me wondering what an “actual” multi-party “democracy”, or more or less equal distribution of diverse voices (political parties) and opinions in parliament would look like. If you had five seats per party for example, laws might take longer to be enacted, but would it on the other hand make the process fairer? And more importantly could it still be defined as a democracy? Did you know that political analysts  are yet to agree on what democracy means. The word originates from the late 16th century. From the Greek words demos (people) + Kratia (power/rule) =  Demokratia, which was became the word democratie in French and gave us Democracy in English. Searching for meaning? There is no “majority” in the word democracy. People is plural, but you only need one more person (plus one) to have the word people. Meaning people with power will always rule. How? Power is attractive, people will  vote for someone who  has the means to do something. i.e If one household has  electricity/telephone in the whole village – the majority will automatically vote for them.  When everyone has electricity, then voting becomes about who has more houses with  power. What I got from it? I understood Democracy as a vehicle for capitalism in the same way that Christianity or organized religion is a vehicle for capitalism) No wonder the ANC calls itself a broad church. No church pays taxes, only church goers do and that’s not a moral judgment, it is  just how the system works. The way it is.It’s either you buy into it or you don’t.Does it makes sense? I sure hope so.

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