The IEC results centre during the 2019 elections. Photo: IEC / Twitter

Last weekend, on 8Th May, was the Election day in South Africa and the results were predictable, regarding the winning party ever since the end of the Apartheid era in 1994. The African National Congress (ANC), Nelson Mandela’s party which led the country to freedom from oppressed rule, has won all the elections since 1994 with the majority that is beyond comfortable by any standards. And it was not a surprise that when the electoral commission of South Africa announced the victory of ANC despite the voter disillusionment and charges of corruption against it, the party stayed afloat in the final counting.

The rising unemployment that reached 27 percent and the corruption charges against the ruling ANC due to which the previous President Jacob Zuma had to resign, the party’s victory in the reelection is remarkable, suggesting the voter’s confidence in the party that needs much reforms as promised by the new President who replaced Zuma, promising anti-graft drive.

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In this election, ANC bagged 57.5 percent of the total vote cast under the proportional system, which is probably the most proportional in the world, with practically no legal threshold. In a PR system, the electors vote for the party and not the candidate, and the parties get representation on the basis of the percentage of the vote cast in their favor. For instance, 57.5 % electors voted for ANC, which in turn would gain 57.5 percent representation in the country’s legislature. As compared to it, the previous electoral system in South Africa was the Westminster electoral system called First-Past-the-Post system which works on the principle on the winner-takes-all. That system is based on the single member plurality system in which individuals, with or without party affiliations, contest elections and the candidate who gains more votes than his nearest rival simply wins, no matter if his vote share is a mere 20 percent of the total vote cast in that constituency or district.

In the previous election in 2014, the ANC had bagged 62 % of the total vote cast in South Africa. If one compares the party’s performance with that, it is definitely a loss of 4.5 percent. But still it is not fair, as generally held by the analysts, to trivialize the significance of ANC’s vote bank of 57.5 %. The analysts who claim the loss of party’s popularity have largely ignored that they are criticizing the party that still holds the absolute majority by any standard of democratic practice around the world. And if, for instance, the argument is entertained that the ANC’s popularity has waned with its loss of the vote, who then gained out of it? The second majority party of the country, Liberal Democratic Alliance, which bagged 22.2 % in 2014, saw a drop in its vote in this election to 20.7 %.

So, for all the practical purposes, South Africa has been a perfect example of one-party dominance since 1994 despite perfect proportionality as described by Prof. Amanda Gouws, who wrote a section under the same title in a celebrated book titled, “The Politics of Electoral Systems”.

However, the fact remains that the party’s share declined below 60 percent for the first time and it is largely due to voter disillusionment amid extreme unemployment and a stagnant economy. But one thing that scarred party’s image is corruption due to which Ramaphosa was brought in against his predecessor Zuma who had been forced out as president. The new leader who is President since 2018 has many challenges ahead in a country with an unemployment rate reaching 27 % and which is also termed as the most unequal countries of the world, whose white population, despite making up less than 10 percent of the total population, control most of the country’s wealth.