A brief guide on how your vote can influence our government

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By Julia Rowley

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.


Reading any news website, one can clearly see that we have entered into silly-season in the realm of politics. As we move closer towards the sixth South African democratic elections, political parties are mobilising their supporters and hoping to gain votes. However, when heading to the voting station, do you actually know what happens once your voting ballot is placed into the box?


Before you vote, you need to consider which party you will be voting for. Deciding this can be made easier by accessing the manifestos of political parties. A manifesto is a public document detailing a party’s main aims, policies and electoral promisesand is released prior to an election. A swift Google search will provide you with an electronic copy of any party’s manifesto that isusually found on their website.


At the voting station, you will receive two ballots – a provincial and a national one.The provincial ballot is used to vote for who you want to make decisions for your province, and the national is used for the country. In South Africa, parties, rather than individuals, are voted for. The parties decide, should they get enough votes, which politicians will be elected into power. This is released prior to the elections so that voters can be fully informed.


Once your ballots are placed in the box, your vote – as well as millions of other South Africans’ – is used to determine the members of Parliament. Parliament is where all laws are made and passed, and thus is incredibly important in representing the people’s interest and concerns and heavily influences the daily lives of all South Africans. 


There are two houses within Parliament – the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces  (NCOP).


The 400 members of the National Assembly are elected directly by the voters. A system of proportional representation is used. This means that the amount of seats a party holdsis calculated by comparing each party’s percentage of the total amount of votes to the total amount of seats, and this determines the percentage of seats that a party gets. For example, in the 2014 national elections, the ANC received over 11 million votes. This was 62.2% of the total amount of votes and so they were able to claim 249 out of the 400 seats.


Prior to the elections, parties send a ranked list of politicians to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and this list is used to determine which members of the party will get seats. The second house of parliament, the National Council of Provinces, is 90 seats, of which each province gets 10 seats. The NCOP is similar to the National Assembly – the amount of seats that each party gets per province is decided using proportional representation (i.e. how many votes each party gets is converted to a number of seats). The members of the parties who get seats is again decided by the party, and they are able to make decisions with regards to provincial laws.


Before heading into the voting station, it is a wise idea to be familiar with South Africa’s electoral system – and how much of an impact your vote truly makes.


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