Comparative Politics

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Comparative Politics
Over the past years, several scholars have researched on the best systems of
representation. It is evident from their findings that nations with ethnic cleavages face various
problems regarding the practice and maintenance of democracies and the severity of such
problems are common in new democracies. Two authors, Joel Barkan and Andrew Reynolds,
have different views on the ideal system of representation for democratic countries and this is
expressed in their respective articles “Elections in Agrarian Societies” and “The Case for
Proportionality.” The article by Andrew Reynolds that supports proportionality-based systems
for democratic countries is more convincing as it promotes and retains proportionality in the
parliament and enhances the diversity of representation and geographic accountability.
Summary of Main Arguments
i. Andrew Reynolds
In the article, “The Case for Proportionality,” Reynolds justifies the need for democratic
societies to adopt a system of proportionality while at the same time providing solutions to the
shortcomings identified by Barkan in his article. According to Reynolds, the SMD plurality
system is not ideal since it is characterized by high IDs (Index of Disproportionality) (Reynolds
118). He conducted his “rerun” of the parliamentary elections in Namibia and South Africa held
in 1994 and found that if the countries used the SMD plurality system would produce results
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with high IDs and this means that the minorities would not have been represented accordingly as
was the case with the proportionality system used then. Additionally, Reynolds argues that the
election results for Malawi and Zimbabwe that Barkan relied on during his disapproval of
proportionality have not been mirrored in established democracies in the world, therefore, they
should not be used against proportionality since they are atypical cases (Reynolds 119). Also,
Reynolds (120) states that proportionality promotes inclusion and this can be vital for the
democratization of divided societies just as it was the case in South Africa. Moreover,
proportionality leads to an increase of economic and class mobility and a decrease in regional
divisions, factors that are key to reducing the geographical polarization of voting. According to
Reynolds (123), proportionality is the perfect system for democracies as it encourages minorities
in regions with ethnic predominance, unlike the SMD plurality system where minorities feel
ii. Joel Barkan
In his article “Elections in Agrarian Societies,” Joel Barkan rallies support for SMDs
(single-member districts) that are plurality-based. Barkan reviews the benefits of PR according to
the information provided by its proponents. Specifically, he states that according to PR
proponents, the system is ideal for the election of members of legislatures, inclusive, facilitates
power-sharing arrangements, and enhances democratization prospects (Barkan 107). Barkan
(107) states that while the experiences of southern Africa offer support for PR, there are no clear-
cut advantages of the system in other countries with similar societies or the rest of the continent.
Moreover, the system is not ideal for Agrarian societies since it fails to produce “fairer” or more
inclusive electoral results than SMD that is plurality-based. According to him, PR is not ideal
regarding consociational government, rather it is meant to facilitate power sharing (Barkan 108).
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PR has various disadvantages. First, it promotes the lack of linkage between constituents and
their representatives (Barkan 108). Secondly, it impedes consolidation through its lack of
sustainment of democracy’s vertical aspect. According to Barkan, PR is not ideal for agrarian
societies, particularly in Africa. Instead, SMD systems suit such societies since they promote
effective representation, an essential ingredient of democracy.
Reasons Andrew Reynolds’ argument is better than Joel Barkan’s
Reynolds’ argument is supported by more evidence from different countries, unlike
Barkan’s argument that relies on southern African countries. Reynolds’s used evidence from
countries across different continents in the world and these include Zimbabwe (three elections),
Zambia, Malawi, USA, Canada, UK, India, and New Zealand (Reynolds 121). On the other
hand, Barkan used data from southern African countries only to substantiate his claims.
Therefore, Reynolds’ argument seems to be more reliable as it involved a broad range of data
from different countries across the world compared to Barkan’s argument.
Secondly, Barkan seems to be more interested in majority representation that quality
representation that is an important element of democracy. From his argument, Barkan believes
that the majorities should not be underrepresented as is common in proportionality systems
(Barkan 115). On the other hand, Reynolds argues that a proportionality system allows
minorities to feel secure and accounted for unlike plural systems (Reynolds 123). It is evident
that from Reynolds’ point of view, proportionality systems have higher chances of decreasing
regional divisions that are common recipes for chaos in emerging democracies. Therefore,
Reynolds’ argument on the idea of quality representation through proportionality systems seems
more convincing as minorities will feel safe as their interests will be protected unlike in
plurality-based systems where they are not represented accordingly.
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Thirdly, the shortcomings of PR as identified by Barkan have been addressed accordingly
by Reynolds in his article and most of the ways that the latter has suggested seem workable.
According to Barkan, PR is associated with the lack of a linkage between representatives and
their constituents and impedes consolidation (Barkan 107). Reynolds addresses these
shortcomings by providing solutions that are workable. According to him, the idea of instituting
an electoral system that is SMD-based does not help in overcoming the obstacles as the SMDs
that result from overwhelming regional concentrations are party boroughs rather than ideal
representations of the people. Moreover, less competitive seats have been known to breed less
responsive leaders as it was the case in the US and UK (Reynolds 120). Additionally, he believes
that adequate representation does not involve representing only the people that make up 80 or 60
percent of the population, but giving minorities an opportunity to air their views. He also states
that even plurality elections threaten democratic consolidation and the case of South Africa’s
elections justifies the need to have proportionality-based systems as the inclusion of minorities
played a vital role in the stabilization of the country during its early years of democratization.
Therefore, a review of Reynolds’ arguments reveals that they are supported by reliable evidence,
unlike Barkan’s arguments.
The article “The Case for Proportionality” by Andrew Reynolds is more convincing than
Barkan’s article “Elections in Agrarian Societies” because it offers evidence-based support for
proportionality-based systems and advocates for an enhanced diversity of representation and
geographic accountability and proportionality in parliament. Reynolds confirms that in case the
South African parliamentary elections of 1994 utilized an SMD system, then the results would be
associated with high IDs, an aspect to show a poor representation of minorities. Moreover,
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proportionality promotes inclusion that in turn plays an important role in decreasing regional
divisions and increasing economic and class mobility. Also, unlike Barkan who is concerned
with majority representation, Reynolds shows his concern for quality representation that involves
the minorities having their interests protected.
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Works Cited
Barkan, Joel D. “Elections in Agrarian Societies.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 6, no. 4, 1995, pp.
106-116. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/jod.1995.0058.
Reynolds, Andrew. “The Case for Proportionality.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 6, no. 4, 1995,
pp. 117-124. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/jod.1995.0071.

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