Independent candidates capable of bringing change - HSF

Ezekiel Kekana and Sophie Smit say the idea that a single vote cannot make any difference is a myth

Independent candidates capable of bringing change

2 May 2024

The May 29th general elections not only presents a change in our electoral democracy but many new options for voters as well. For the first time in 30 years, voters will have the option to vote directly for individuals who will feature as independent candidates on both the regional and provincial ballot.

The introduction of independent candidates will also see a change to the voting process with the addition of a new ballot called the regional or province-to-national ballot where both independents and political parties will compete for the 200 seats in the national assembly. The existing provincial ballot will also be contested by independents and political parties for the seats in the provincial legislatures, while the national ballot will only feature political parties as in the past.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced that 70 political parties and 11 independent candidates will be contesting for the seats in both the national assembly and provincial legislatures.

The 400 seats in the national assembly, which previously were only contested by political parties, have now been split into two, the regional list seats and the national list seats. Political parties are able to contest all 400 seats as they are listed on both the regional and national ballot while independents will only contest for the 200 regional seats.

The regional seats are allocated based on the number of registered voters per province. That is, the greater number of registered voters that a province has, the more regional seats are allocated to it in the national assembly. For example, Gauteng province, which has the highest number of registered voters (6,537,169) will see both political parties and independents competing for 48 seats in for the national assembly.

The new government could potentially result in a president who does not come from a political party. Over the years political parties were able to use their majority of parliamentary seats to elect their own member of parliament (MPs) (a president can only be elected from members of parliament) to be the president of the republic.

However, there is a possibility that an independent candidate could get the required 50+1 votes in the national assembly, which is the needed number to become the country’s president. A compromise could be made wherein an independent candidate is voted by the majority of parliamentarians as the next president of the republic. We have recently seen small parties getting mayoral positions in municipalities such as the City of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni because of political parties not agreeing on their own candidates.

That kind of possibility could be a shift in our democracy because it will signal a new way of holding those in power accountable. Over the years voters complained about how it becomes too difficult to hold their public representatives accountable, because of how it is primarily parties who select party representatives to be MPs and ultimately the president. However, an independent candidate who can successfully be elected as a president of the republic could easily be held accountable by those who have directly voted for him or her. The other way of exercising this form of accountability could be through parliamentary committees. Besides the right to be part of any parliamentary committee by virtue of being an MP, an independent candidate could potentially occupy the parliamentary committee chairpersonship. Parliamentary committees are vital structures in parliament because they play the watchdog role and hold the executive (President, Deputy President, and Ministers) accountable.

What Should Happen

The idea that a single vote cannot make any difference is a myth. Many single votes together can bring about change and fix our country’s socioeconomic challenges such as unemployment, poverty, crime, and stagnant economy.

HSF therefore encourages all registered voters to exercise their democratic right by voting on the 29th May.

For those who will not be able to vote on election day, it is advisable to apply for a special vote, which remains open until May 3.

 Ezekiel Kekana and Sophie Smitare researchers at the Helen Suzman Foundation