On 12 June 2020 the Constitutional Court of South Africa found that parts of the Electoral Act unconstitutional. The parts in question effectively prohibits an individual to stand as an independent for election in the National Assembly (NA) which is the lower-house of the country’s Parliament and centre of power. The South African constitution outlines that elections for the NA must be “based on the national common voters roll” and “results, in general, in proportional representation”. Effectively this means that at least part of the NA must be elected via proportional representation (PR).
This could pave the way for a Multi-member Proportional Representation system (MMP) to be implemented. Such a system effectively gives a voter a ballot with two columns and the right to vote once in both columns. One column is for a party and the other for an individual candidate. As with PR the party-list system is used to determine seats allocated by the party in proportion to the percentage of votes received. The second column elects a candidate for that constituency or district.
The court’s decision does not spell-out exactly what should happen to the Electoral Act. The fight will be to get as close to a 50/50 split between party-list and constituency in the amendment. That will be an MMP system implemented properly.
Assuming that such a system is adopted, I argue, all parties will become better and it will be a huge victory for South African democracy.
It will help all parties including the ANC. The ANC (or any party in government) can make great policy, but implementation is often lacking. I believe this is because of the nature of a closed party-list system where there is a comfortable majority. MPs are beholden to their party more than to the voters. On the other hand first-past-the-post (FPP) destroys the possibility of minority opinion being heard and you could even end up with a minority government, like the way the NP got into power in 1948 with less than 40% of the popular vote among those who voted. With an MMP system balance is brought to a democracy. You can, for example, run as an independent caucusing with the governing party. The people in your district can then apply more pressure on you than the party bosses in cases where extremely unpopular choices are being made. This can increase the effectiveness of the governing party, if they don’t win an all-out majority on the party-list system. It can also increase their majority. You can have constituency candidates running as independents, declaring that they will caucus with the ANC. I personally know plenty of people who will vote for a constituency ANC candidate but not a party-list candidate. Especially among minority voters in areas where the ANC struggles to make in-roads.
Frankly, if the ANC wants to govern past 2035 without the need for a coalition partner, it will be in their interests to implement MMP properly. With PR as it is now the ANC’s support will dwindle bit-by-bit. On the Socialist side the EFF is making radical progress chipping away at the ANC’s support. There is undoubtedly a growing gap on the political scene for a proudly black, market-orientated party. A movement in that direction is already underfoot among some former DA politicians. Such a party could carve out enough PR support from the ANC. Frankly, the ANC can protect itself from this erosion by supporting a 50/50 MMP system.
The majority of constituency seats can be filled by either independents or party supported candidates. The machinery that the party has on the ground can make fighting such elections in the majority of areas around the country an easy victory. If there are local issues with the ANC, the local candidate can declare that it will fight within the party to fix those issues. On the other hand, independents who declare that they will caucus with the ANC can win the support of voters who would have voted for a minor parties simply because they view the ANC as a behemoth.
I believe that the ANC itself can fix many of the internal issues, especially with the regard to slow delivery and corruption, if it supports a 50/50 MMP system. It will be interesting to see how things unfold. If they don’t implement 50/50 it will be a sign to me that the corrupt have too much power within the party to fix it.