AD89: As South Africa’s local elections approach, public confidence underpins system in turmoil

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 As South Africa’s local elections approach, public confidence underpins system in turmoil
Sibusiso Nkomo and Jamy Felton

South Africa’s fourth democratic local government elections, in August 2016, will be a test for the long-ruling but troubled African National Congress (ANC), for opposition parties hoping to claim some major cities, for an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) caught between court orders and logistical realities, and for local government councillors facing their constituents.

The IEC, in particular, confronts a mammoth task and a legitimacy test after the Electoral Court ruled last year that certain by-elections were not free and fair because of incomplete voter rolls. The court ordered the IEC to make sure all voters’ formal addresses are verified – a requirement that the IEC is challenging as unrealistic (Cele, 2016; Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2016; Rabkin & Mashego, 2016).

The latest Afrobarometer survey in South Africa, conducted in August-September 2015, sheds some light on an election system in turmoil. Most South Africans are still confident that the electoral system has integrity and elections are free and fair without intimidation or violence. But South Africans have become more skeptical about whether elections ensure that voters’ views are represented and that voters are able to remove non-performing leaders from power. Survey responses indicate that if national elections had been held last year, the ANC would have seen its majority shrink while opposition parties gained ground.

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