Handbook chapter on the South African electoral system available free (for now)

Via Molly Balikov, of Oxford University Press (on Twitter), comes this good bit of news:

With the upcoming South African election, the chapter by Karen Ferree in the Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems (co-edited by me) is free to access on line.

2 thoughts on “Handbook chapter on the South African electoral system available free (for now)

  1. It is amazing that the ANC wins majorities that most international political parties would dream especially in Western countries all under the most proportionate electoral system with no low district magnitude and legal thresholds. It appears that South Africa has a 2 party system under an List PR system albeit the DA and/or any of the other opposition parties as of this point or in the intermediate future are not a future government in waiting.

    So is it the electoral system that influences the party system or the party system impacts the electoral system? One would expect under a List PR system like South Africa, the largest party would be at 17% and the legislature be extremely fragmented with single issue interest group parties. It is very good that South Africa has this electoral system with no legal threshold and very low district magnitude. The ANC can use it’s huge majority and the close nature of the party list to punish dissidents, do the parties here in this situation expel dissident members as nobody can leave their party without losing their seat? In what case is anti-defection okay?

    Wasn’t there going to be any change to the electoral system by moving to an MMP system like for local government or toward having smaller district magnitudes and by having an open party list system? South Africa is a fairly big country, and one would think that people would want closer access to their politicians doing constituency work. How much of a percentage is being a member of a legislative body is constituency work, and how much time is spent in parliament debating bills?

    • As the linked South Africa chapter rightly points out, “the formidable salience of racial cleavages in South Africa strongly impacts the party system.”

      And as I note on my website’s page on South Africa’s electoral system (listed as a reference on the aforementioned chapter):

      “The 1996 constitution required Parliament to enact legislation to establish an electoral system for elections to the National Assembly (as well as the provincial legislatures) held after 1999. To that end, in 2002 the government appointed an Electoral Task Team (ETT), chaired by Dr. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, the former leader of the Official Opposition in the whites-only Parliament. Opinion surveys conducted by the ETT showed a high level of satisfaction with the existing system, but also indicated that most voters wanted closer contact with elected officials.

      In a report released in 2003, a majority of the ETT members recommended that 300 of the 400 seats of the National Assembly be filled in sixty-nine multi-member constituencies, each returning between three and seven MPs. The remaining 100 seats would be filled on a national list. Constituency boundaries would be drawn along existing provincial, municipal and metropolitan boundaries. The constituencies would be used for national as well as provincial elections. […] However, by 2003 it was no longer possible to implement the system proposed by the ETT in time for the 2004 general election. As a result, Parliament passed an Electoral Laws Amendment Act that retained the existing electoral system, thus following the recommendation presented by a minority of the ETT members. […] Since the recommendations presented by the ETT majority were never implemented, the 2009 general election was held under the existing electoral system.”

      But back to the formidable salience of racial cleavages in South Africa, I might add there’s nothing really new about them. In this year’s general election, we had the ruling party (ANC) backed by the majority group with voting rights win with just over 57% of the vote, while the liberal party backed mostly by minority groups (DA) trailed a distant second with about a fifth of the vote. There was also a radical breakaway from the ruling party (EFF), emerging as a significant third party with double-digit support, which originated from voters belonging to the majority group, who nonetheless found the ruling party’s defense of its perceived group interests to be insufficient.

      However, if party labels are excluded this description could just as well apply to South Africa’s 1981 whites-only general election, in which the National Party, backed by the majority group with voting rights at the time (namely Afrikaners) won with about 57% of the vote, while the liberal Progressive Federal Party (PFP), backed mostly by the English-speaking minority within the white minority, trailed a distant second with just under a fifth of the vote. There was also the Reconstituted National Party (HNP), a radical breakaway from the ruling party emerging as a significant third party with double-digit support, which originated from voters belonging to the majority group, who nonetheless found the ruling party’s defense of its perceived group interests to be insufficient.

      Thus, in some ways South Africa’s 2019 general election could be seen as a mirror image of the 1981 election, albeit on the much larger scale of an electorate that now includes the country’s overwhelming non-white majority. However, there is one very important difference, namely the electoral system, which nowadays allows minority parties to attain representation in proportion to their voting strength, and also encourages them to run everywhere in the country, even in areas where they might be comparatively weak. Under the FPTP system in place back in 1981, the ruling National Party was greatly over-represented at the expense of minority parties, particularly those whose support didn’t concentrate to reach majority levels: this is precisely what happened to HNP, which failed to win a single parliamentary seat in that election (probably a plus). Moreover, opposition parties couldn’t afford then to put up candidates in many districts where they had no realistic prospects of winning or even achieving a respectable showing.

      All the same, as I commented five years ago DA continues to face pretty much the same challenge PFP and DP had to deal with in the past, albeit again on a much larger scale: expanding its fairly limited support among the majority group with voting rights (Afrikaners in the days of white minority rule, blacks at the present time). Just as important, one has to wonder if further along the road ANC will suffer a far more damaging split on the left than the earlier EFF breakaway, resulting in the emergence of a new leftist challenger, much more powerful than EFF but somewhat less extremist than the latter (which might end up sidelined in the process). If such a development takes place, it would mirror the 1982 National Party split, which led to the creation of the far-right Conservative Party (CP), which in turn eclipsed the even more extreme HNP.

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