2. The Concept of Effective Representation

Effective representation is a concept. That is to say that it is a package of items, which will only be understood if they are defined or unpacked. The Oxford English dictionary defines the word effect as meaning "... bring about, accomplish; cause to exist or occur". Effective as the adjective of the verb effect therefore means "having an effect; powerful in effect; striking, remarkable" (Oxford English Dictionary). In this context the word effective is equated to the word successful. We are, therefore looking for the characteristics of a successful representative. The effectiveness can be measured by the popularity of the individual, which is itself determined by performance in the polls. In other words, it

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is unlikely that an ineffective representative will be popular with his/her constituents. Even a demagogue's popularity is usually short-lived.

The concept representation is also problematic. The dictionary defines representation as "fill place of, be substitute or deputy for, be entitled to act or speak for, be sent as member to legislature or delegate to meeting, etc". The definition goes on to emphasise the semblance between the representative and the represented or that is a representative must resemblance the people he/she represents. In politics, therefore, representation refers to a person who does or says things on behalf of those he/she represents. A successful representative must therefore have the likeness of those he/she represents. He/she should understand their needs and be able to express them in a manner understood and accepted by them. The question becomes how exactly does one do that? This booklet is an attempt to explain how one can achieve this mammoth task.

However, scrutinised further, the concept of representation must of necessity involve leadership. In other words, the representative must not only understand the situation of his/her constituents but that of the wider community, the nation, region and the world as well. This requirement immediately separates the representative from the average members of the constituency/ward and makes him/her a better informed leader. This aspect of representation is important in that a representative is a delegate with powers to talk on behalf of but not always in agreement with all those he/she represents. As a delegate, a representative also has his/her right to personal opinion on issues.

The guiding principle in representative politics is trust. In electing representatives the electorate is actually passing a vote of confidence in the person or in the party whose candidate they elect. Indeed, to emphasise this principle, some countries have allowed the electorate the right to recall/call back or replace the representative whose performance they are unsatisfied with. In Botswana, this happens every five years when through the elections the electorate evaluate, recall/re-assign or

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renew the mandate previously given to a particular Member of Parliament (MP) or councillor.

2.1 Main Ingredient of Effective Representation

Although there is no blueprint or textbook on what constitutes effective representation, there are, nevertheless, some major principles and procedures that all representatives should understand and master. Key among these are:

  1. knowledge of the system of governance,
  2. understanding the functions of political parties,
  3. personality characteristics,
  4. knowledge and information base of the representative,
  5. special conditions affecting certain representatives, such as women and minority leaders, directly related to their status in the wider society,
  6. being informed of the regional and international contexts
  7. the ability to marshal and present information using the right channels to the different sections of the electorate. Each of these is discussed in detail in the following sections of this booklet.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Juni 1999

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