Few have known the political prestige and power held personally by Nelson Mandela, who passed away yesterday in his 96th year.
Mandela’s behavior as the first black president of a multi-racial South African electorate (1994–1999) reminds me of George Washington’s approach to power. Washington showed restraint in stepping down from his position after two terms, steering clear of any sort of pseudo-monarchy.
In terms of uniting a disparate population, Nelson had a much tougher task than George. Mandela met the task by promoting an election system called proportional representation — PR, for short.
During Apartheid, elections for the whites-only legislature had been winner take all. Mandela and the ANC knew (upon his release from 27 years of imprisonment) that with voting rights for the large black majority they would win big. Less than one percent of the country’s 700 districts contained white majorities.
So Mandela opted for a PR election system where even a tiny segment of the vote could gain representation in the National Assembly.
At GlobalAdvocacy.com, Andrew Reynolds emphasizes
the importance of South Africa’s choice of a List PR system for these first elections. Many observers claimed that a PR system, as an integral part of other power-sharing mechanisms in the new constitution, was crucial to creating the atmosphere of inclusiveness and reconciliation which has so far encouraged the decline of the worst political violence, and made post-apartheid South Africa a beacon of hope and stability to the rest of troubled Africa.
A group I work with, the Center for Voting and Democracy — or FairVote, for short — works on election reforms we in the USA could use to create greater participation and competition and, ultimately, better representation. In honor of Nelson Mandela, I’m going to make a contribution today.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.