Election Watch

Although flawed, proportional vote is the one to watch

Municipal elections.jpg

When looking at tomorrow’s municipal election results as a curtain-raiser for the national elections in 2019, votes cast on proportional ballot papers countrywide will be the statistics to watch.

The municipal electoral system is a mixed one, with voters being issued with two ballot papers – one with the names of the candidates in his ward and the other with the names of political parties. The second one is for the proportional/list component of the to be elected local government.

Councils are constituted on a 50/50 basis from elected ward candidates and allocations to political parties proportional to the combined votes for its candidates and for the party.

The number of votes cast on the list, municipal-wide, provincially and nationally, gives an indication, as close as it can get, of the support level of individual parties in each of the three geographical units. This is an early indication of what can be expected in 2019.

Since this year’s local elections have also been positioned as close as possible to a referendum or plebiscite on the popularity of national party leaders and the national policies of those parties, the proportional result is crucial to those leaders and their parties.

In the internal post-election stock-taking process, it could – and should – be a crucial and determining fact regarding, in particular, the future of president Jacob Zuma as ANC leader. It could also be the determining factor in him seeing out his term as president of the country.

It could, in the case of the ANC, add fuel to the existing factional battles inside the party and be an indication of whether we can expect a repeat of the appearance of an interim president as happened during ex-president Thabo Mbeki’s final term in office.

It is doubtful whether all voters fully understand these implications of the present system and the opportunity both to vote for an individual candidate, as well as register their displeasure with a particular party and/or its leader. On the proportional ballot paper they could either vote for a different party than the one of their preferred candidate or not at all.

It will be interesting, after the votes have been counted, to compare the total votes each party received for their candidate, to those on the proportional vote. It should give a fairly good indication of the overall political lay of the land.

Also big flaws

As set out in a brilliant analysis of the present local government electoral system by Graham Sell, published last week in BizNews under the heading 2016 elections – Free, Fair, or Fraud?, there are also some serious flaws in the system.

For one, independent candidates are not accommodated on the proportional ballot, which could have a distorting effect on the figures referred to above. On a national basis it would probably be marginal, but in municipalities with a high percentage of independent candidates it could be more substantial.

Shell also makes the point that there is some real discrimination against independent candidates in the regulations applied by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), especially since there are clear indications of abuse by all main parties of some regulations allowing individuals to make themselves available in multiple wards. In some instance the same candidates appear on the ballot papers of more than 90 wards.

This just might leave the door open for independent candidates to, as they did with by-elections in Tlokwe, combine forces and resources to challenge results in court, with all the instability, disruption and uncertainty that go with it.

Among other flaws Shell points out, are:

  • Skewing of results by pulling together the candidate votes for purposes of the proportional allocation of council seats in jurisdictions where a party’s support has been dwindling; and
  • Creating family dynasties in some jurisdictions.


The combination of a geographical constituency-based representative system with proportionally elected representatives delivers a better accommodation of especially minorities in the community and offers a more varied set of options to voters.

The way the system, however, presently functions at local government level in South Africa, has both room for and is in need of considerable improvement.

by Piet Coetzer

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