South Africans might have to spend a bit more time working through the ballot paper if they have no clear idea who to vote for come May 8. There are 48 political parties contesting this year’s general election — 19 more than in 2014 and a record, according to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC).
But while it seems voters are spoilt for choice, it may be a case of quantity over quality. In the run-up to the election, the political environment is more fractured than ever, and it’s said this poll will be the most hotly contested since 1994. But many of the new parties seem to be more of a sideshow than actual contenders.
The real issue is that so many voters are disgruntled with the country’s biggest parties. That said, the number of coalitions that formed after the 2016 local government elections showed how smaller parties can punch above their weight. The EFF, for example, contested its first election in 2014.
It became a kingmaker just two years later; three years on, it has its eye on governing. But a party first needs to make the grade. The number of votes required to win a single seat in parliament depends on voter turnout; in 2014 that was about 50,000 votes.
Of the 29 political parties that contested that election, only 13 won seats in parliament.