Are reserved seats an effective means of representation?

A first point made was that reserved seats alone are not sufficient. Minorities and indigenous peoples must participate in other State institutions, government, the judiciary, and more generally all spheres of life, especially in economic life. National policies and programmes enhancing minority and indigenous rights were essential, minority and indigenous interests had to be mainstreamed into State policies. Moreover, their voice should not only be heard at the national level, but also the regional and international levels.

The main argument in favour of reserved seats was that they guarantee that the voice of minorities and indigenous peoples is heard in parliament. Minority and indigenous MPs belonging to mainstream parties are not always able to defend minority and indigenous interests effectively, as they have to vote along party lines.

For reserved seats to be effective, the following must be ensured: 

  •  Holders of reserved seats must be able to address all issues before parliament, not only minority and indigenous issues. Minority and indigenous issues should be mainstreamed into parliamentary work.
  • Minorities and indigenous peoples must select their representatives themselves, not the general public or political parties.
  • Minorities and indigenous peoples should also be able to vote in the general elections, because this is a means of exerting influence on mainstream party politics.
  • It has to be made sure that holders of reserved seats were indeed defending minority and indigenous interests.
  • One had also to look into the decision-making bodies within parliaments (Bureau, political groups, presidency of committees) and to ensure that minority and indigenous MPs are represented there as well.

The main arguments against were the following:

  • Reserved seats can be used for further marginalisation. Other MPs use them to say that they cannot deal with minority and indigenous issues as they are matters to be raised by those holding reserved seats.
  • Can the system of reserved seats works in a country like Nigeria which has more than 200 ethnic groups?

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