UPDATED 12/5/15 – See below
The job of an MP is to represent their constituents. But how many voters do they have to represent?
If there’s a big difference between the number of voters represented by different MPs, it can be unfair on MPs who have to represent a larger number of people. More importantly, it can be unfair on the voters. Those who live in constituencies with a smaller population would potentially have more influence over their MP – and therefore over the government as a whole. Those in constituencies with more voters would find it harder to make their voice heard.
On the other hand, there can be good reasons to have slightly different sized constituencies. Where there are very clearly defined communities – such as islands, for example – it can be appropriate not to split these up or to artificially combine them with a geographically separate community. And it doesn’t make sense to keep all constituencies exactly equal-sized by repeatedly re-drawing constituency boundaries as people move around the country and populations change.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently published estimates of the population in each region, district, constituency and ward, across the whole country – both the total population and the estimated number of voting-age adults. This means we can see how fairly – or unfairly – the country has been divided into constituencies.
First, I’ve grouped the constituencies by region, and coloured them according to whether the constituency is predominantly urban or rural. The bars show the voting age population in each constituency, according to the NBS data. And second, I’ve also worked out the average number of voters per constituency for Dar, other urban and rural constituencies, and for constituencies won in 2010 by CCM and by opposition parties. In all these cases, I’ve left out Zanzibar, as the system for electing MPs is different on the isles.
People living in constituencies with bars that don’t reach the “average” line are better represented, while those in constituencies with longer bars are less well represented.
Some quick thoughts:
First, there is clearly a very wide range here. In Ubungo, Dar es Salaam, 575,000 voters elect a single MP, while in Pangani (Tanga), Mafia (Pwani/Coast) and Mchinga (Lindi), the MPs each represent less than 40,000 voters.
Second, the situation for voters in Dar is particular unfair, except in Ilala constituency. The seven constituencies with the largest number of voters per MPs are all in Dar es Salaam.
Third, there is only a small difference in the size of the electorate between rural constituencies and urban constituencies outside Dar.
Fourth, there is only a small difference in the number of voters per MP in constituencies won in 2010 by CCM and the opposition. Opposition MPs represent, on average, a slightly larger number of voting age adults (152,000) than CCM MPs (119,000).
Almost certainly, the main reason for the disparities here is that the population of some constituencies has grown much more quickly than others.
The National Electoral Commission has the power to redraw constituency boundaries, and to make the constituencies more equal. This data suggests that it might be time to use it.
Several newspapers reported today that the National Electoral Commission is indeed planning to announce several new constituencies. The Citizen made the story their front page lead.
the Director of NEC, Mr Julius Malaba, said demarcation of the constituencies will base on the population people in respective constituency as provided by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the number of current constituencies which is 239.
In urban areas, the director explained, a constituency will be made up of about 325,000 people while in rural areas the number has been set at 250,000.
He also called for applications and proposals on the new constituencies from stakeholders.
The Citizen’s article differs on some of these details.