I have been following the ongoing political crisis in Britain, the election was held but no overall party won although the Conservatives won the most seats.
Coalition talks soon began with the Liberal Democrats wielding the most power with 57 seats out of 650. The talks between the Conservatives and the Liberal broke down due to differences over Liberal demands for an overhauling of the whole system.
This opened the door for Gordon Brown to suggest a coalition of the losing parties to stay in power. Conservative heavyweight MP Malcolm Rifkind accused Brown of “Mugabe style politics.”
The comparisons with Mugabe are stretching it a bit but this election reminds me of another election I covered in my first foray into journalism, Kenya 2007. Even before poll day, a stalemate was inevitable.
All eyes were on Kalonzo Musyoka to break the tie between Kibaki and Raila Odinga; he had fallen out with Odinga and sat on the side waiting for him to come begging. In the end Kalonza sat with PNU stalwarts like Martha Karua, Moses Wetangula and John Michuki to force Raila into a government of national unity.
There were no allegations of rigging in UK as was in Kenya. That said, up to a million voters were turned away because time ran out and this election was decided by 16,000 votes. Human rights organs would have castigated an Africanc country for this.
In Africa we vote by lantern until the last voter votes, even in Sudan polling time was extended due to requests from the opposition parties. The electoral system was reformed and amended over 1000 years and has always been a compromise. It is a “first past the post system” where the winner takes all in a constituency.
Now it is obvious that the constitution and electoral system in Britain needs reform. No system is perfect and a system has to adapt to the given situation. Unlike Britain that has no written constitution, in Rwanda we sat down to write ours.
At the time we chose a progressive model that was commended at the time, we chose a roundtable government where the winner has to share power with the minority parties. The same system is being attacked by some of the people who commended it years ago.
One change we might have to make the residency rules for candidates, so we do not have “parachute” candidates who appear every 7 years with a gang of foreign press and human rights lawyers. In the UK if you spend 3 years outside, you are not entitled to certain services and benefits for 3 years until you have paid tax into the system.
Every system has its faults, proportional representation gives disproportionate power to smaller parties but that is the price of pleasing all sides. That is the problem, it is a choice between block votes or fragmented coalitions.
If the Liberals and Labour get together then they still need the regional parties to join them. Imagine if a Party represented Cyangugu only and their price for joining was to remove funding from Nyamasheke to pay for Cyangugu.
Then they are even held more to ransom and bribery becomes open- hence the Scottish National Party will demand more spending at a time when there is no money to spend. So the government will have to borrow money to stay in power. Democracy is a bad system but it is the best we have, so they say.
Rama Isibo is a social commentator