Unpacking South Africa's voting dynamics

Tuesday May 7 2019

Members of the South African Police Services

Members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) deployed at the Kwazulu-Natal headquarters of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the results operation centre on May 6, 2019. South Africans go to the polls on Wednesday, May 8 2019. Cyril Ramaphosa's ruling African National Congress is contesting with Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters and Mmusi Maimane's Democratic Alliance for the presidency and control of Parliament. PHOTO | RAJESH JANTILAL | AFP 

PETER DUBE
By PETER DUBE
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  • A background

South Africa goes to the sixth democratic general election on Wednesday with the scales slightly tipped in favour of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

The ‘Rainbow Nation’ held its first free and fair election in 1994, shortly after white minority rule was brought to a halt.

Birthed through blood and violent social turmoil, the liberation movement for a non-racial South Africa had arrived at a political precipice which would go on to dictate nation’s future.

But since then, the political landscape has shifted a lot.

  • The Contenders
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The governing ANC’s support has gradually diminished over the years while a party formed by its former youth leader, Julius Malema – the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) - has gained a lot of ground.

The white-dominated Democratic Alliance (DA), which has been the main opposition since then, has maintained its strongholds.

Nonetheless, the ruling party, embattled as it is, looks likely to retain national governance although voter surveys show that Wednesday’s polls could be its biggest litmus test yet.

The party has been dogged by factional wars, and is still nursing the wounds left by former President Jacob Zuma’s turbulent second tenure.

But, with President Cyril Ramaphosa, a much more respected figure, loved by the markets and deemed more or less ‘incorruptible,’ the party is hopeful of a triumphant election.

  • What are the national elections?

The southern African country holds elections every five years. South Africa has two types of elections: national and provincial elections, and local government elections.

In a national election, voters get to elect a new National Assembly and new provincial lawmakers in each province, also known as the National Council of Provinces.

The two chambers combined constitute Parliament.

The country uses the proportional representation method where the number of votes each party gets in the National Assembly and Parliament is determined by its share of the vote.

Each party then decides which of its members will fill the seats.

  • How does SA vote?

Voters choose the party whose policies they relate with rather than an individual candidate. Voting will be done in 22 924 voting stations mostly in schools and community halls.

The Electoral Commission led by Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo will preside over the election.

Voting stations open as early as 7:00, before closing as late as 21:00.

The votes are tallied overnight and if one party receives over 50 per cent of the vote, it is declared the winners.

  • Build up to the election

In the run-up to the elections, there was an uproar over the Parliamentary party lists the ANC, DA and EFF submitted.

Campaigns were largely peaceful except for cases of xenophopia a month to the polls which were said to be politically instigated.

  • Seats for a majority in Parliament

There are 400 seats in the country’s National Assembly meaning a party can hold a majority if they secure 201 seats or more.

If no party gets the seats it can form a coalition with another party to seize control of Parliament.
The DA and EFF entered a coalition to take control of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane during the 2016 municipal election.

Fissures have since appeared in the coalitions and ANC is hoping they do not team up again.

  • The Presidency

Once the winner been decided, the presidency automatically vests in the leader of the successful party.

The inauguration ceremony has been set for Africa Day, May 25, 2019, signalling the beginning of the five year term.

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