BY YUSUF BANGURA
Allieu Sesay’s analysis fails to incorporate population or registered voter shares in discussing seat allocations for the 2018 elections.
Population or voter registration shares is the basic principle democracies use to allocate constituencies. Sesay’s reliance on only parliamentary seat allocation to discuss the parliamentary seat gains and losses of the APC and SLPP is grossly superficial.
Democracy requires equality of voters—i.e. the vote of every voter should have the same weight, irrespective of where a voter resides.
If for, instance, constituency x has 50,000 voters, and constituency y has 25,000 voters, the value of constituency x’s vote will only be half of constituency y’s, which will be unfair.
Inequality of voters refers, therefore, to situations where constituencies with different numbers of registered voters are allocated the same number of seats.
All democracies have bodies that determine how constituencies or seats are distributed. A review of seat allocation and constituency boundaries is done periodically because of changes in populations that are due to births, deaths and migration.
In the US, there is redistribution (or reapportioning) of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives every 10 years based on census data. In the UK, boundary delimitation and constituency distribution takes place every 8-12 years. This exercise is primarily also guided by the number of registered voters in each constituency. The most up-to-date voter register list is used, not census data as in the US. Since it is difficult to have perfect equality of voters in all constituencies, most countries set a limit on deviation from the average or a quota.
In the UK, for instance, the electoral quota for 2013 was 74,641 voters (45,678,175 registered voters in non-preserved seats divided by 596 non-preserved seats). The UK stipulates that the size of a constituency should not deviate by more than 5% from this electoral quota. This means every constituency should be in the range of 72,810 and 80,473.
I have taken the time to explain this issue to highlight the point that disproportionality or voter inequality cannot be discussed without reference to population or voter registration data.
If Sesay wants to discuss the boundary delimitation and parliamentary seat allocation that increased the number of MPs from 112 to 132, he should follow standard academic practice of linking voter registration to seat allocation to determine whether the allocation was done unfairly.
I have not spent time to study the pre-election boundary delimitation and constituency distribution by district; nor have I looked at which district is disadvantaged based on population or voter registration shares. But using the ethno-regional categories of North—North-West, Western Area and South—East, disproportionality can be captured by comparing voter registration shares and seat allocation shares per region (instructively, the dominance of the two parties in their respective regional strongholds is much higher in the parliamentary seat distribution than in the presidential vote distribution in the first round).
If more seats were allocated to the North--North-West and Western Area during the last boundary delimitation exercise, it could well be a re-ordering of seats-per district to reflect population shares or voter registration shares.
As I stated in my article, the parliamentary seat distribution tracks fairly well the distributions of registered voters and actual voters in the 2018 elections. Only the Western Area is disadvantaged in seat distribution: it has a higher share of registered (28%) and actual voters (29%) than parliamentary seats (21.2%). The North--North-West and South--East have a higher share of parliamentary seats (35.6% and 43.2% respectively) than registered and actual voters (the North—North-West accounts for 32.5% of registered voters and 31% of actual voters; and the South--East accounts for 39.5% of registered voters and 40% of actual voters).
To conclude, the APC has more MPs than the SLPP because there are more registered and actual voters in its strongholds in the North—North-West and Western Area than in the SLPP’s strongholds in the South and East; and the electoral system of first-past-the-past is highly disproportional. It disadvantages the SLPP in the Western Area, Kono and North—North-West where it increased its vote shares to win the presidency.
29 April 2018
To follow the debate: