20 April 2017

South Africa: How South Africa's Electoral System Effectively Disenfranchises Voters

Photo: Werner Beukes/Sapa
Voters wait to cast their ballots (file photo).

The South African Constitution does not provide any clarity on the nature of the relationship between extra-parliamentary political parties and their elected representatives in the national and provincial legislatures. Can extra-parliamentary leaders of political parties dictate to their MPs how to exercise their constitutional duties, including their duty to vote in a motion of no confidence against the president? If parties can dictate to their MPs, it means that power shifts from the democratically elected legislature to the leadership of the governing party which, at most, is "elected" by a few thousand carefully selected party members (possibly after money has changed hands to sway that "vote").

In South Africa, voters do not vote for individual members of the national or provincial legislatures. At the national and provincial level, we vote for political parties, not individual MPs. MPs are "elected" into the legislature because they happen to have been placed high up enough on their respective party's electoral lists (or, in the case of someone like Brian Molefe, because they were manipulated to the top of the relevant list).

But because few, if any, voters know the names of candidates on each party's election list, or the position of each name...

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