Why South African general elections are less noisy than Kenyan ones

Some 400 seats will be up for grabs in Parliament on Wednesday

In Summary

-South Africans do not vote directly for an MP, as we do in Kenya

-As such, you don’t have potential MPs running around the neighbourhood, blowing their own trumpets and offering inducements

Polling stations have opened for people to cast their vote
Polling stations have opened for people to cast their vote

On Wednesday, South Africans go to the polls to elect the government, which will see them through the next five years.

Like Kenyans, South Africans are enthusiastic about voting, and it is expected the queues will begin forming at the polling stations way before they open for voting at 7am.

Similar to Kenya, there also seems to be a huge number of political parties vying for office. On the ballot, South African voters will have 48 parties to choose from, 19 more than they had at the last general election in 2014.

However, here the similarities fade a little, because instead of Kenya’s “winner takes all, losers be damned”, “first past the post” electoral system, South Africans use the proportional representation (PR) method.

I must just add here that the more of the PR system I see in action, the more I wish Kenya had adopted it. How this works is that all votes from across the country are tallied and then the number of seats each party gets in Parliament is determined by their share of the vote. I have seen estimates that claim that every quarter of a per cent of the national vote amounts to one seat in the National Assembly.

Therefore, in this PR system, the share of seats political parties get in the House are in direct proportion to the number of votes received at the polls. After that has been decided, the parties then go through their lists of nominees lodged with the Electoral Commission and choose which members will take up the seats they have won.

As such, South Africans do not vote directly for an MP, as we do in Kenya, they vote for the party and the party then decides which of its members will be deployed to Parliament. This partly explains why it is so much quieter in residential areas during election times than it is in Kenya.

Here in South Africa, we don’t have potential MPs running around the neighbourhood blowing their own trumpets and offering inducements, sorry, I meant to say motivating voters, to elect them. That sort of thing will be upon us in a couple of years time, when South Africans return to the polls to elect municipal officials (I guess in Kenyan terms, these would be MCAs).

At these local government elections, South Africans use a mixed system, in which 50 per cent of the seats are elected on a first-past-the-post system and the other 50 per cent using the PR system.

Back to the presidential and parliamentary elections that will be happening on Wednesday, and with 400 seats up for grabs in Parliament, the majority party will be the one that secures 201 or more seats.

If, for whatever reason, there is no party that meets this target of over 50 per cent, then the law allows the majority party, let’s say it won 175 seats, to get into a coalition with a smaller party that has, for instance, 26 seats, and thus get to be the majority party.

So if all goes well and by Thursday, the electoral commission can announce a winner, the leader of the winning party can expect to be inaugurated as President two weeks later for a five-year term.