Record turnout predicted for South Africa’s tightest post-apartheid election, ANC set to lose majority

Record turnout predicted for South Africa’s tightest post-apartheid election, ANC set to lose majority
/ Government of South Africa
By Brian Kenety May 28, 2024

South Africans head to the polls on Wednesday (May 29 ) for what observers predict will be the most hotly contested election since apartheid ended in 1994, with a record 27.7mn people having registered to cast their ballots.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling African Nation Congress (ANC) risks losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, opinion polls show, amid widespread frustration over rising inflation, high unemployment and crime – along with rolling blackouts, leaving homes and businesses without power for half a day or more.

Apart from power cuts – which in the weeks ahead of the election all but disappeared, leaving many to speculate the reprieve was a trick to win voters’ confidence things will get better under the ANC – Africa’s most industrialised economy has also been plagued by logistics backlogs, further eroding productivity, and profits.

Corruption continues to undermine the government’s ability to deliver services and grow the economy. Senior members of the ANC continue to hold their positions in the face of corruption allegations, with Transparency International ranking South Africa 72nd out of 180 countries surveyed globally with a score of 43.

If the polls are right, to hold on to power, the ANC would be obliged to ally with some of the dozens of political parties and independents running for seats in parliament and the nine provincial legislatures.

The election looks set to herald a new era of coalition government, possibly with the ANC sharing power with the centrist Democratic Alliance (DA), which has consistently grown its voter share in each election since 1999, when it scored 20.77%, with the latest Ipsos poll showing the official opposition at 21.9% support.

The DA had been trying to form a multi-party pact ahead of the May 29 elections to unseat the ANC, but failed to garner much enthusiasm from several smaller opposition parties, specifics on policies the pact will pursue, and who exactly would lead the government, remain unclear.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a communist and black nationalist offshoot of the ANC, formed in 2012, is also thought to be gaining traction among disaffected youths. The majority of South Africa’s 62mn  people are under 35, and nearly half of them are without work. Last year, the unemployment rate was the highest in the world. EFF’s firebrand leader Julius Malema could also wrangle seats at the table.

“There are lots of permutations ranging from a centrist ANC-DA coalition to a so-called ‘doomsday coalition’ in which the ANC teams up with the left-wing EFF (although we suspect that some of the EFF’s more radical proposals would never see the light of day),” writes Jason Tuvey, Deputy Chief Emerging Markets Economist, at Capital Economics.

Something of a wildcard is the MK (uMkhonto weSizwe) Party, which went from being a political non-entity to a potential game changer after former President Jacob Zuma joined the party in late 2023. Zuma himself, however, was recently barred by the constitutional court from contending.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), formed by Zulu royal prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi in 1975 as a cultural organisation, could also look to play kingmaker. The party is polling at 4.4%, down from 3.38% in 2019.

Mcebisi Ndletyana, professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg, has identified a potential plateau in the support for the ANC's primary competitors – the DA, EFF and IFP, the East African writes.

“The opposition is fragmented because, despite the ANC losing support, the DA and the EFF are not experiencing significant growth,” explained Ndletyana, noting a multitude of new political entrants attracting pockets of support. “They are supposed to be consolidating, but there is further fragmentation among the opposition,” he said.

The only certainty is that record numbers of South Africans are set to vote on May 29 in national and provincial elections to elect a state legislatures and a new National Assembly – which will choose the president for the next five years.

These are South Africa’s seventh democratic general election since apartheid ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected president with the ANC winning 62.5% of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.

Whatever the shape of the next government, and whoever is the next head of state, they may have a raucous time trying to right the South African ship, writes Capital Economic’s Jason Tuvey:

“One broader point is that, whichever parties govern, a more fragmented parliament is likely to make the jobs of stabilising the public finances and tackling structural economic problems even more difficult. During the next parliamentary term, we think the public debt ratio will continue to rise while GDP growth will stay weak at around 1.0-1.5% a year.”

South Africa’s lower house of parliament currently includes 14 political parties represented by 400 members, allocated proportionally based on the votes each party received in the 2019 elections.

  • African National Congress (ANC): 230 seats (57.5%)
  • Democratic Alliance (DA): 84 seats (21%)
  • Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF): 44 seats (11%)
  • Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): 14 seats (3.5%)

Ten other parties make up the remaining 28 seats.

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