Party lists for South Africa 2019

South Africa’s general election is approaching–8 May. Parties are releasing their lists. EWN reports the names of the top 20 candidates on the national list of the Democratic Alliance (and has a link to the rest of the lists).

Meanwhile, africanews reports that the African National Congress has been criticized for having “tainted politicians” who were close to former president Jacob Zuma on its list. For instance,

Zuma allies Nomvula Mokonyane, the environment minister who was recently implicated in graft at a corruption inquiry, and Bathabile Dlamini who was at the centre of a benefits payments fiasco, are named among the top 10 candidates on the list.

As a political analyst, Ralph Mathekga, is quoted as saying: “The ANC list is very revealing.”

Perhaps so, and that is a reminder that it is not true (as critics of closed lists often claim) that candidates do not matter when the list is closed and thus voters are unable to vote for specific candidates. In fact, the set of candidates a party selects, especially in top and thus safe ranks (for a major party) do provide clues about the party’s priorities. In the ANC’s case, presumably one of the priorities is to keep the different wings of the party within the tent, even if that means potentially diluting its message of having tackled corruption by ousting the previous incumbent leader, thereby allowing it to enter this election with a new incumbent at the helm. Beneath that level, of course, it is the same party.

Other parties, like the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters, will use the slate of candidates against the ANC. The candidates do matter–even on closed lists! Or at least opposition parties may act as if they do. Whether voters will vote against a ruling party because they do not like specific candidates in various ranks is, of course, another matter.

19 thoughts on “Party lists for South Africa 2019

  1. Pingback: Candidates on party lists as features of inter-party competition | Fruits and Votes

  2. Is South Africa going to open up it’s party lists? It seems odd that the country hasn’t change its electoral system having smaller multi-member districts with fewer nation wide compensatory seats?


    • Is this an ANC move to try to maintain a “proportional” system but that will help them retain power even in the face of declining votes, or is this something legitimately centered around better governance, constituent service, and public access?


      • I believe it has more to do with the court case mentioned in the article, “New Nation Movement v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others”, which ruled that the requirement that candidates stand on party lists to be elected to national and provincial assemblies was unconstitutional and required the government to come up with a new electoral system to fix this. Presumably it would be possible to allow independent candidates to stand by simply letting independent candidates stand in the province-wide districts as if they were parties under the present system, although I don’t know if such a measure would necessarily be constitutional given the difficulties it would place in the way of independent candidates and it would clearly produce some logistical difficulties if a large number of independent candidates chose to run.

        The proposals in that article, with the exception of the last one, look a lot like the Danish electoral system, with reasonably small districts with open-ish lists compensated by a national list (although no one seems to have hit upon the Danish approach of distributing national-list seats back to the districts in the first tier). The Danish system allows independents to stand and be elected, although it’s not clear to me from Arend Lijphart’s (otherwise very comprehensive) piece on the Danish electoral system exactly how independent votes are counted and whether they benefit in any way from the nationwide compensatory seats.

        The proposal for MMP has the problem that South Africa’s electoral geography would make it almost certain that, all else being equal, the ANC would win 80-90% of the SMD seats, with the DA and maybe the Inkatha Freedom Party winning the leftovers. If there was some sort of restriction on overhang seats, that system would provide tremendous advantages to the ANC. Similarly, if independent candidates are constitutionally required, MMP would give the ANC a huge incentive to register some of their local candidates as ‘independents’ to allow them to win list seat and sweep the SMDs at the same time. Their dominance of the SMD seats would mean that other parties would not be able to effectively respond in kind.


      • The constitutional court ordered the parliament to adopt a new electoral system in New Nation Movement NPC and Others v President of the Republic. Clause 4 of the order reads:

        4. It is declared that the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 is unconstitutional to the extent that it requires that adult citizens may be elected to the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures only through their membership of political parties.

        The issue is not so much closed or open lists as that there must be some way for independents to be elected. The only way to comply with the court’s order would appear to be MMP or that other electoral system which I will not mention. The issues get described at some length in Practical implications for the electoral system: New Nation Movement NPC v President of the Republic of South Africa:

        In New Nation Movement NPC v President of the Republic of South Africa, the Constitutional Court declared parts of the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 unconstitutional in so far as the Act does not provide for independent candidates to stand for political office in the national and provincial legislatures. The court has given the National Assembly two years to redesign the electoral system. Given the constitutional and logistical constraints, the legislature will probably not be able to avoid a major electoral reform. It will be very hard to justify that voters may select a candidate of their choice only when such a candidate runs as an independent but not when a candidate elects to run on a party ticket. The best option would therefore be to introduce a mixed electoral system which combines constituency-based elections with proportional representation of political parties. To keep ballots manageable it would be appropriate to use other electoral design tools such as an entrance hurdle for political parties and deposits and/or nominations by registered voters supporting independent candidates as well. Such a reform might contribute to weed out candidates tainted by corruption because the capacity of political parties to shield them from the electorate in closed lists where the voters have no say about which candidates get elected will be constrained.

        I boldfaced the section particularly relevant that is particularly relevant to the closed/open list issue.


      • “It will be very hard to justify that voters may select a candidate of their choice only when such a candidate runs as an independent but not when a candidate elects to run on a party ticket”-hard to justify on a Constitutional basis, or hard to justify in a political sense? The article seems to imply that it is only the latter


      • I’d submit it would be hard to justify on either basis in the context of South Africa. The current electoral system has generated massive corruption and that was the case well before Zuma became president. Indeed, Mbeki was removed as president precisely because Zuma needed the presidency to avoid prosecution for the Arms Deal scandal.

        Members of the national assembly are purely party appointees, and they can be redeployed out of parliament whenever their parties so decide. A number of ANC MPs critical of Zuma were redeployed throughout his presidency. That’s a level of party control, impersonality in the term used in the article I quoted, unknown elsewhere in the democratic world.

        A solution that retains proportionality while reducing impersonality, barring a topic decency prevents me raising, is not immediately obvious. Judging by the ANC’s record, MMP would, as you say, merely lead to a rash of pro-ANC independents.

        The paper <a=href”>Electoral Systems, District Magnitude and Corruption
        may be relevant.


      • In the Danish system (in reply to @hschlechta) independents can only stand in one constituency. They are elected if they get a seat in the constituency using d’Hondt, and if they aren’t they are ineligible for top up seats. Comedian Jakob Haugaard won a seat in the 15-member East Jutland constituency in 1994 while running as an independent, but otherwise I don’t think any other independents have been elected there.


    • I feel like I vaguely understand the problem, but this article is not helping me understand it any better. I know I’m biased towards strong parties and institutions that foster that, but I just can’t wrap my head around these counter-arguments. Can someone help me out?

      “political parties are the fly in the accountability ointment.” “the direct link between eligible citizens running for office and being elected by voters to represent them is severed.” Is it? Which candidates are on which list is known ahead of time. More importantly, why is this a problem? Individual MPs can do very little. How can you base accountability on a unit that has no power? (This is echoed in the excellent point she makes later: “When there is no threshold for political parties to enter Parliament, proportional representation could give rise to a proliferation of small parties or splinter groups without any real political bargaining power in Parliament.”)

      “a pure proportional system tends to be impersonal since most candidates on party lists would be faceless as far as the average voter is concerned. Such a system can easily be manipulated by party elites to create a system of political patronage that wipes out democracy at base within political parties.” Obviously she means a pure (i.e. closed) list system, not pure PR. That aside, how does it “wipe out democracy”? If a party is corrupt, vote for another party. This is easier in South Africa than in any other democracy.

      “”Voters do not have the power to vote corrupt politicians or party officials with little popular support out of power.”” Why would be individual-based voting more efficient in wiping out corruption? If the corruption is based in the party organisation, what matters should be the tools to punish the party. Again, these are available in South Africa. I get the sense that maybe the problem is just that most voters are so attached to the ANC that they are unwilling to punish it for its corruption, so intraparty voting for candidates would be a convenient alternative. But I don’t think it’s ideal.

      “Parliamentarians derive their position not from any necessary connection with the electorate but from their status within the party. The crucial thing is not knocking on doors, fixing the problems of constituencies, or even just representing concerns of people living in any identifiable geographic region.” Great, so the focus is on the macro, not the micro. Sounds to me like that is as it should be. Am I wrong?

      Of course, these justifications are all given as additional to the real reason compelling the government to look at reform: the Constitutional Court’s ruling that independent candidates must be given a place in the electoral system. I certainly think that is sufficient on its own, but I wonder if there might be something to those additional arguments. I’m just not sure I understand them.


      • I agree with JD on this, and would add that it seems like there’s something of a positive relationship between the degree to which a system allows independents to be elected and the degree to which a system would overrepresent the ANC (the national list, though unfriendly to independent candidates who want to do intensive local campaigning, is bad for the ANC). The ANC being insulated from electoral competition seems like a more serious problem for South Africa’s general quality of governance than independents not being elected.


  3. Could South Africa use the STV system? The first preference could be a vote for a party list for the national level using the best loser system. Independent candidates can be treated as a party in its own right. MMP might lead to decoy lists.


  4. I am not saying it is an ideal system, but wouldn’t the easiest solution be to treat independent candidates as 1 person parties that can only one one seat?


    • Yes, and especially considering that RSA uses a single national constituency of 400 seats allocated using LR-Droop with no threshold, there would be a relatively low barrier for them to get in. The challenge would be managing the ballot. There were 48 lists contesting in 2019, and each list’s logo must be displayed as well (so you can’t really reduce the size of how much space they get on the ballot beneath a certain amount), so adding single independents candidates on top of that could make the ballot papers increasingly unwieldy.

      One way to limit that might be to require independents to provide nominating signatures from one Droop quota worth of voters, based on the previous election (the quota in 2019 was 43,485). That way those that make the ballot are almost certain to get elected, so you avoid having a large number of frivolous individual candidacies making the ballot impossible to use.

      Another challenge would be to determine if a single independent candidate earns a seat in multiple provinces, which province to allocate the seat to. This would have no impact on the national seat distribution but would have an impact on which candidates on other parties’ lists get elected (200 candidates are chosen from provincial lists, divided proportionally by population amongst the provinces, and the other 200 candidates are elected on national lists).

      As for STV, South Africa certainly could use it, but this would take a huge amount of power away from the party brass and put it in the hands of regular voters, and I can’t see the ANC being fans of that. There would also be the challenge of proportionality, as South Africa has, if I’m not mistaken, the single most proportional lower house in the world at present, and STV would be a major movement away from that.

      MMP would be unlikely for the similar reasons: if you have a two-ballot vote, you run the risk of decoy lists, undermining proportionality, and if you count the constituency and district vote as one vote, you could see opposition parties consolidate, which would be a threat to ANC rule, so they’d never support that either.


      • The constitutional court specifically uphold the right of all citizens to stand for parliament outside the structure of parties. Having them compete on the national list would only comply with that order in the most formal way, and the constitutional court does not have a history of taking formalism seriously.


      • Is it necessarily more in keeping with the ruling to allow independents to stand for election in smaller-DM districts (like under the Danish system) or in single-member districts under MMP? Under the Danish-style proposals, independents would be seemingly locked out from winning any of the higher-tier seats, while under MMP they would be restricted to competing in the SMD seats. In both cases it seems like it wouldn’t necessarily be easier for an independent candidate to be elected.


      • I do not see how having independent candidates compete on the national list would comply with the order “only in the most formal way.” The ruling does not include any language ordering the creation of an alternate “structure” other than the current list system, only that the defect of only permitting political parties to nominate candidates be fixed. Allowing independent candidates to stand on the national list and to be elected as if they were one-person parties complies with the substance and the spirit of the court’s ruling, and avoids the challenge a Danish-style or MMP system would place on an independent by requiring them to have their vote concentrated in one small geographic region in order to be represented.

        The article’s secondary focus on open vs closed lists is definitely a discussion worth having, but not a change that the government would need to make in order to be in compliance with the New Nation ruling. The Maverick article argues that closed lists are out of compliance with 42(3), but nothing in the court’s ruling would support that analysis. I agree that in the South African case open lists would be better, but I can’t see any reason why they’d be mandatory. And even if they were mandatory, there are other logistical ways to handle it rather than forcing smaller constituencies on the system, including increasing the number of signatures needed to register a party or taking the parties and their logos off the ballot paper and having voters write in a candidate’s number a la Brazil.


  5. Interestingly enough, a number of South African parties already seem to basically see themselves as locally-based independent groupings. For example, the ‘Better Residents Association’, despite appearing on ballots across the country, received 63% of its vote from its 50 strongest polling places. The ‘Land Party’ received 68% of its vote from its 50 strongest polling stations, and the Democratic Liberal Congress received 54% (comparative figures for the ANC, DA, and EFF are 1.4%, 2.6% and 4.8% respectively).


    • I’m wondering to what extent that is that those parties see themselves as local independent groups vs those groups simply lacking either a national base or the resources to campaign outside their local areas, but it is an interesting point.


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