In what has been touted as the most crucial election since the end of apartheid, South Africans are set to elect new leaders on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.
No fewer than 48 parties are contesting the election, 19 more than the last election in which each voter will cast two ballots; one for the national legislature and the other for their provincial legislature.
South Africa uses a voting procedure that involves a closed list proportional representation system: Voters choose a party, not a candidate. Parties are allocated seats in the national and nine provincial legislatures in proportion to their share of the vote.
The election comes against a backdrop of pessimism over the state of their political system and persisting divisions in attitudes by race and political party.
The African National Congress (ANC) has won every parliamentary vote since 1994, but its majority in parliament has declined. The opposition has capitalised on a series of corruption scandals and also unrest over poor delivery of public services to drive home their point.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa is under intense pressure to prevent further erosion of his party’s waning popularity. The ANC has seen its share of the parliamentary vote fall from a high of more than 69% in 2004 to 62% in 2014.
Ramaphosa, at a recent campaign rally, said the ANC had taken decisive steps to fight corruption in the country, that the era of impunity is over and that the ANC is now in an era of accountability.
The ballot comes at a time when voters in Africa’s most industrialized economy are deeply concerned about several issues impacting their daily lives, with roughly half of the adult population currently living below the poverty line. South Africa’s unemployment rate is 27.1% one of the highest in the world.
Last year, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in its 2017/2018 report said the country remains the most unequal society in
the world. However, the view that the ANC tolerates corruption is expected to hurt the party in the polls.
The ANC is accused of not doing enough to address the issues. It faces a major challenge from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters(EFF).
Major opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) won 22 percent of the parliamentary vote in 2014, giving it the second biggest number of seats in the National Assembly. It traces its roots back to the Progressive Party, a group formed by white liberals who opposed apartheid and has grown partly by merging with other parties.
In 2015, the DA appointed its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane to broaden its appeal and improve its national standing. It later enjoyed coalition victories in local government elections in metropolitan areas like Johannesburg a year later.
But some analysts say it has lost its way since reaching what is considered its highest political milestone, and some polls show that its support could wane in the 2019 polls.
The Economic Freedom fighters (EFF) emerged out of conflict within the ANC. Its top brass, including head Julius Malema, were leaders in the ANC Youth League but were driven out by then-president Jacob Zuma.
The EFF is essentially a vehicle for black middle-class voters who believe, with good reason, that a quarter century of democracy has not demolished racial barriers in business and access to professions such as law and medicine.
Given its origins, the party indeed provides an option for disaffected ANC voters wanting to retain their political identity. But, despite these assets and much favourable media coverage, the EFF is very far from being a serious contender for a role in government.
South Africa has come a long way since apartheid, the immediate post-apartheid years proved a tough climate for economic development and the integration of millions of South Africans into the workforce.
In addition, tackling social issues of decades-long segregation was also not an easy task. The ability of South Africans to trust a party to adequately address these issues will determine the election results.
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