NDF Proposed Electoral Systems: Puzzles and Merits of PR Systems and How to Avoid By Elections Across Board in Zambia

By Chris Zumani Zimba


HH-and-Lungu-50The rationale, ripeness and compatibility of discussing and considering the Proportional Representation (PR) Electoral System for Zambia as per NDF resolutions is not different from the case of South Africa.  The mirror of their political history, ethnic diversity and current governance puzzles reflects Zambia too. Hence, Lodge in his book “How the South African Electoral System was negotiated” makes an important expert guide when he said, “the configuration of an electoral system is of fundamental importance to the nature of a country’s politics and, very importantly, the match between the preferences of citizens, the preferences of elected officials, and government’s policy direction. South Africa’s ‘proportional representation’ (PR) system was selected for its inclusiveness, its simplicity, and its tendency to encourage coalition government”1.  From many political fronts, Zambia is not different.

At global level, there are three (3) major competing electoral systems which are (1) majoritarian system or 50% +1 Vote System, (2) proportional representation (PR) system and, (3) plurality voting or First Past the Post (FPTP) System2. The fourth one is Hybrid or Mixed Sub Electoral System which combines two or three of the above in terms of definition, merits and features. While each of the three has multiple tailor made sub versions, it is noble to stress that no type of electoral system is perfect, best and none is the worst. All electoral systems present their own unique merits and demerits depending where, when, why and how they are prescribed and applied.

Proposed Options of Electing and Replacing MPs, Councilors and Marginalized Groups in Zambia

The NDF unanimously agreed that going forward, Zambian needs to have two categories of members of parliament (MPs) as well as councilors i.e. (1) those directly elected by citizens on political party tickets using the current Plurality Electoral System or First Past the Post (FPTP); (2) those elected from and to present marginalized constituencies such as women, youth, disabled, etc using a proportional representation (PR) system. While there are many sub PR electoral systems such as “Single Transferable Vote” (STV) PR Systems, here, I want us to briefly share and discuss the most dominant two PR Sub Electoral Systems that may be compatible with and in Zambia:

  1. Party List PR Systems

Under party list forms of PR Systems, there are two models. In fact, the two are the most widely PR Systems in the world.

  • Closed Party List PR system: Here, voters merely vote for political parties and the parties themselves determine who will fill the seats that they have been allocated or won. Legislative elections in Israel, South Africa or Germany use this PR system3. This may be more suitable both when it comes to electing MPs, councilors and members of different interests groups such as women, youth, church, differently abled and so forth. This is more suitable for Zambia especially that most citizens support the NDF recommendation of reducing or banishing by elections. Once the threshold is agreed and determine such as 20% or 30% of total legislative seats, it is this PR System that suitable to be adopted and used to elect representatives of marginalized groups on their own institutional tickets or closed party lists.
  • Open Party List PR system: Here, voters are given partial or full degree of choice among individual candidates contesting on party tickets. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland all have versions of open party list systems3. In like manner, marginalized groups may equally use the electoral model to elect and replace their representatives. The Open Party List PR presents multiple challenges if a country choose to be avoiding by elections in case of death or resignation of the elected MP or Councilor. And just like the closed party list system, this one too has its own unique merits and demerits.
  • Broad Strength and Merits of the Party List PR Systems
  • The votes cast can easily be interpreted into seats won; hence it avoids the unfair results which may come with the other systems;
  • Due to the multi-party systems, it serves as a check against abuse of office by the party in power (coalitions);
  • Voters are able to choose a candidate that best suits them or those whose political ideologies they agree with;
  • It accommodates minority groups and prevents the dictatorship of the majority voters in national governance;
  • It facilitates and sustains national unity as most if not all key stakeholders are represented in the legislatures;
  • It enhances tenure stability and harmony as an MP, senator, etc can easily be replaced without a by election;
  • In the PR System, women are more likely to be elected into power than in any other electoral systems; and
  • Governments elected in the PR System are very inclusive, responsive and effective as compared to the two systems2.

Under all party list systems, though, you still needs some method for allocating seats to individual parties. One commonly used method is named for the nineteenth-century Belgian mathematician Victor d’Hondt, and is normally referred to as a “highest average method using the d’Hondt formula4. However, party list PR Systems have some problems and challenges. For example, How feasible is it for parties that receive only 0.001% to also be represented? What happens if the voting percentages do not translate evenly into seats? How do you award a party 19.5 seats if it got 19.5% of the vote?4 Hence, more sophisticated PR systems attempt to get around these problems.

  1. Hybrid or Mixed Member Electoral System

As I said, the Hybrid Electoral System or Mixed Member Proportional System combines two or three of the above in terms of definition, merits and features; in this case, I will discuss it as a sub type of the PR System with Majoritarian System biases.

To be specific, the Hybrid Electoral System, which is, also known as the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) is a combined electoral System, generally comprising of the Majoritarian and the Proportional Representation running alongside each other in many states5. This System attempts to combine the best features of Majoritarian Voting System which are stability and effectiveness and Proportional Representation Voting Systems which are representation and proportionality, in other words, it combines the positive attributes of the two Systems. It can also combine the positive attributes of the FPTP Voting System with the PR System.

Here, some members of the legislative are elected in Single-Member District Plurality contests and the other half are elected by the Party List vote and are added onto the district members so that each party has its appropriate share of seats in the legislature form each geographic district.  It is said that this system is the best as it provides the geographical representation and close constituency ties of Single-Member Plurality voting and the fairness and diversity of representation that comes along with PR voting6. Although originally invented in West Germany right after World War Two, several other countries have also adopted it, including Bolivia and Venezuela7.  Going by the NDF resolutions, I had a solid impression that most delegates were proposing the MMP System though the puzzle of avoiding by elections may remain unresolved for those individual MPs elected under the current voting system.

Broad Strength and Merits of the Hybrid or Mixed Member Proportional Systems  

  • Voters have the chance to vote twice, that is one vote for the party and the other for their local MP;
  • It increases voter turnout as voters are free to choose from the various parties and candidates;
  • There are fewer votes wasted as most votes matter and are counted either to the party or candidate;
  • Voters have more choices at polls given the diversity and increased options for and of the system;
  • There is a fair representation for marginalized groups who may be excluded by other pure systems;
  • MMP provides the geographical representation and close constituency ties of Single-Member Plurality voting and the fairness and diversity of representation that comes along with PR voting; and
  • In the Parallel system, when there are enough seats, small minority parties which have been unsuccessful in the plurality/majority elections can still be rewarded for their votes by winning seats in the proportional allocation2.

The Puzzle of How to Avoid By Elections at Parliamentary and Local Government Level in Zambia

If Zambia was to adopt the Closed Party List PR Electoral System as the cases apply in South Africa or in Israel, South Africa or Germany, then the political puzzles and worries of spending on periodical by elections for MPs, Councilors or Mayors can be resolved once and for all. From our end, this is the only practical and simple way of warranting electoral stability and continuity of tenure at parliamentary and local government level without going for by elections within one’s five years in office. However, I doubt if the NDF deliberations and consequently resolutions spoke to the fact that Zambia need to consider changing the current FPTP electoral system for MPs, Mayors and Councilors as individuals on party tickets to a typical Closed Party List PR Electoral System so that seats at parliamentary and local government levels are won as well as replaced by the party.

However, if Zambia choose to continue voting for individual MPs and Councilors on party tickets as it stands, then the idea of automatically replacing such political leaders in case of resignation or death by their party presents four main technical challenges.  (1) The replacement of an elected MP or councilor by the party will be purely a “political choice” of the party and not the “elected choice” of the citizens of his/her area. (2)You cannot give the same powers of electing MPs and Councilors to both the citizens and the party at the same; how one is elected in the first place determines how one can be replaced. (3) Such a system of avoiding by elections can put the lives of elected MPs and councilors under continuous threat as their party members can always be scheming known options of how to remove and automatically replace them. (4) This system can put parliamentary and council seats at the chaotic, violent and bloody auction center with politicians viciously trading in each other as well as their seats for dollars.  Maybe, the MMP Voting System will help to some extend if fashioned in a tailor made Zambia way, maybe.


In order to prevent presidential by elections, the 2016 Zambian Constitution has a solid cure in the running mate clause and NDF delegates never touched this part as provided by Article 47 using the “Majoritarian Electoral System”8 where the winning candidate must receive more than 50% of the valid votes cast, and in accordance with Article 101.  The proposed coalition government is meant to avoid or not prioritize a presidential rerun in case none of the candidates scores 50% plus 1 of the valid votes in the first round.

By broad conceptual definition, an electoral system which is also called a ‘voting system’ “is binding political methods by which citizens elect their political representatives in democratic states or a structured legal framework which create and determine the rules on how parties and candidates are elected into political office”2. And going by the recommendations and resolutions of the NDF to introduce the PR System using a MMP as well as designing mechanisms of preventing by elections at presidential, parliamentary and local government levels, the task to contextualize this is huge for Zambians; but commendable, achievable and ripe indeed.



  1. Lodge, T. (2003) “How the South African Electoral System was Negotiated”, Journal of African Elections 2 (1):71-76; Cape Town
  2. Zimba C.Z. (2015:176, 203) “ The World’s Trinity Competing Political and Electoral Systems”, Chrizzima Democracy Publishers, Lusaka
  3. Wim Louw (2014:1), “The South African Electoral System”, accesses from https://hsf.org.za/publications/hsf-briefs/the-south-african-electoral-system
  4. Charles King (2000:1), “Electoral Systems”, accessed from http://faculty.georgetown.edu/kingch/Electoral_Systems.htm retrieved 28/09/2015.
  5. Hermens Ferdinand A. (1941). “Democracy or Anarchy? A Study of Proportional Representation”;  IDEA Handbook, (2005:90) Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame.
  6. Moser and Scheiner, (2004:576) “Mixed Electoral Systems and electoral system effects: controlled comparison and cross-national analysis” accessed from http://polisci.ucdavis.edu/people/scheiner/escheiner/research/published-work/Moser%20and%20Scheiner%202004,%20ES.pdf
  7. Mthoyoke, (2015:1), “Electoral systems”accessed from www.mtholyoke.edu retrieved 20/05/2019
  8. Allan Mandindi, (2019:1), “What is 50 plus 1 Electoral System?”, accessed from https://allanmndindi.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/what-is-50-plus-1-electoral-system/  Retrieved on 17-05-2019

Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Policy Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher, Consultant, Public Health and Tobacco Control Advocate. Besides being the CEO at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles on African politics and public health. Sometimes, he lectures Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS) outside his usual commitments. Chriszumanizimba.cz@gmail.com or chriszumanizimba@yahoo.com; +260 973 153 815 for calls or WhatsApp

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