The number of registered political parties has increased significantly over the past decade. However, this has not translated into a more diverse choice for South African voters.
In the 2014 elections, 29 parties contested the national elections, only 13 made it into the National Assembly.
In 2019, just 14 parties emerged from a pool of 48 parties contesting. Currently, 360 parties are eligible to contest in the 2024 polls.
While there have been concerns about the logistical implications of hundreds of contenders, the Electoral Commission (IEC) believes that the prospects of having significantly more parties in Parliament after next year’s elections are slim.
Just under 600 political parties are registered with the IEC, but 360 are eligible to run in the national elections. Some experts say the increasing number of political parties, is a testament to South Africa’s ripening democracy.
The IEC says the proliferation of parties does not necessarily mean the addition of more parties in Parliament. “For us, the constitution calls for a multi-party democracy but the reality is that, in each election, there’s an increase in the number of parties and increase of parties in the ballot paper but that has not translated into plurality of voice, the voice in the national assembly has platooned at 14 parties, so if there are new entrants but the voters have repudiated many of the others,” says Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Masego Shiburi.
Asked why this is the case, Shiburi cites that some political movements may not offer what South Africans need.
“There are many parties but they don’t offer a varied menu to the voters and maybe some are just a demonstration of our body politics especially the fact that some are personality-driven, some are just splinters from existing parties, so they don’t offer, from an ideological perspective, I don’t think they offer much difference to the voting public.”
The IEC has put in place measures to ensure contestants in the elections are serious about their participation. Those include certain signature quotas and registration deposits.
“If we didn’t have those requirements, what it means is that all the registered parties could theoretically qualify to be on the ballot paper and if you have 600 parties on the ballot paper, you are making it difficult for the voter because ultimately a ballot paper is the only tool that enables a voter to make and record their choice, and for us to translate that choice into representation in the legislative assembly.”
Despite this trend, the enthusiasm of those seeking to form political parties and throw their hats in the ring in the upcoming elections remains un-dampened.