Elections 2019

The hour is almost upon us – the day when South Africans embark on go to the polling stations to exercise arguably the most fundamental democratic right, that of voting. There are however many who are not entirely knowledgeable of the electoral system employed in SA – we thought it would be useful to provide a synopsis before the main event

Proportional Representation

SA makes use of a PR electoral system - South Africans cast a vote for one party and parliamentary seats are allocated in direct proportion to the number of votes a party received.

Advantages: Inclusive, simple, coalition government, representative and proportional Parliament

Disadvantages: it is said the PR system creates distances between the electorate and individual representatives as voters cast a ballot for the party and the party in turn decides which representatives make it to Parliament (as opposed to a constituency-based system where individual representatives are directly voted for)

There is no perfect system, and systems need to be considered in the context of the particular country.


SA makes use of a closed-list PR system. All parties registered to contest the general election submit, to the IEC, lists of individuals to occupy the seats in the nine provinces and national legislature in proportion to the number of votes the party secured in the election. The lists are "closed" in that they cannot be altered by voters – the lists are however open to public viewing https://www.pa.org.za/blog/candidate-lists-51-objections-52-overturned-iec

At the end of the electoral process, these (ranked) lists are used to fill the seats allocated to each party. The higher up on a list a party member is, the more likely that member is to get a seat.

Parliament & Seats

SA's national legislature consists of 490 seats – 400 in the National Assembly and 54 in the NCOP (The NCOP is made up of 54 permanent delegates and 36 special delegates)

For seats to the National Assembly, only the national ballot is relevant. The National Assembly seats are filled in two tiers: half (200) seats are regional seats and filled by reference to regional votes and regional lists while the other half (200) are national seats and filled by reference to national votes and national lists (or entirely from regional lists if a party did not submit a separate national list)

In order to allocate seats, the number of votes a party received is translated into a proportion of the seats in the National Assembly, first regionally and then nationally.

First, the number of votes equivalent to a single seat must be calculated. Each seat then represents a 'quota' of votes. The simplest way to do this is by dividing the total number of votes by the total number of seats (i.e. votes/seats). In South Africa we use a version of the Droop Quota method. For regional seats the quota is determined, for each region, by the total number of votes in that region and the total number of seats in that region. For the national seats, the quota is determined by the total number of votes in the country and the total number of national seats.

Seats are allocated proportionally – the number of seats allocated to a party depends on how many times the party meets a full quota. This is calculated by dividing each party's share of the vote, regionally and then nationally, by the quotas determined at those levels. During this process the remainders are set aside. If, after this process, there are unallocated seats, the remaining seats are allocated to the parties who have the largest remainder. And so the 400 seats for the National Assembly are filled .

This is quite complicated but should you be interested in reading more, see here: http://www.electionresources.org/za/system/

Prof Pierre de Vos writes that a party needs about 40 000 to 45 000 votes for every seat allocated in the NA although the complicated formula used to calculate the seats provides a slight advantage to very small parties vying for only one seat. Such a party may get that one seat with as little as 30 000 to 35 000 votes. Elections follow a five-year cycle, with national and provincial elections held simultaneously and municipal elections held two years later. On Wednesday, voters will receive two ballot papers – national and provincial.

Talk of coalition government has been bandied about in the run up to the elections – read more about these intricacies here: https://constitutionallyspeaking.co.za/what-happens-after-the-election-results-are-announced/

After the election

The Constitution spells out, in section 52, that after an election, the first sitting of the National Assembly must take place at a time and date determined by the Chief Justice but not more than 14 days after the election result has been declared – the provisional day set out for this is Wednesday, 22 May 2019

At this first sitting, the National Assembly will also elect its Speaker and a woman or man from among its Members to be the President – the Chief Justice, or another designated Judge, presides over the election of the President and Speaker The election of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and President must be done via a secret ballot, and a candidate only wins if he or she obtains more than an absolute majority of the votes cast.

The President will then appoint a Deputy President and Ministers to constitute his or her Cabinet – the Deputy President and Cabinet Members are selected from the Members of the National Assembly although no more than two Ministers can be appointed from outside the National Assembly

The President will be inaugurated on Saturday, 25 May 2019. In a departure from the tradition the event will take place at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. According to government, hosting the inauguration in a stadium, the largest in the City of Tshwane, will allow for greater public participation in this important national event. The theme of the inauguration ceremony is "Together celebrating 25 years of freedom: Renewal and Growth for a better South Africa." Aside from members of the public, it is expected that Heads of State and royalty from a number of countries will attend, as well as religious representatives, political parties, and representatives from regional, continental and international organisations and bodies such as the Southern African Development Community, the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN).



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