South Africa: Electoral system

Reviewed April 2019

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Legal and institutional framework

Legal basis Constitution of the Republic of SA of 1996.
Electoral Act 73 of 1998.
Electoral Commission Act of 1996.
Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act of 1997.
Municipal Structures Act of 1998.
Municipal Demarcation Act of 1998.
Municipal Electoral Act of 2000.
Electoral system National Assembly: Direct universal adult franchise proportional representation electoral system[1].
Presidential Elections: President is elected by the National Assembly[2]
Electoral management bodies (EMBs) Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) manages elections at all levels of government, ensure elections are free and fair, declare the results in as short a time as possible[3].
Electoral Court reviews the decisions of IEC[4]
Independence of EMBs IEC: Members appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Assembly, following nomination by a National Assembly inter-party committee; members may be removed for misconduct, incapacity or incompetence by the President on a resolution of the National Assembly[5].
Electoral Court: Has the status of the Supreme Court. Members appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Judicial Services Commission[6].
EMBs stakeholder relations Relations between political parties and civil society, the IEC and the media are governed by the regulations on Party Liaison Committees[7]
Political parties Party registration is undertaken by the Chief Electoral Officer, parties without elected representatives in state structures in must renew their registration annually[8].
Party funding is largely unregulated, no legal requirements in terms of private fund raising or accounting for private funds expended in campaigns; parties receive public funding roughly in proportion to their representation in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures[9]
A Code of conduct governing campaigning is included as a schedule to the Electoral Act, but the IEC is empowered to add provisions; parties, its agents and and candidates required to subscribe to code on nomination submission; failure to adhere to code punishable by disqualification[10]
Mass media South Africa has a highly developed and diversified public and private mass media; public media are regulated by the Independent Communications Authority which is responsible for setting a code of conduct during elections and for arbitrating disputes[11].
Allocation of free air time to parties is based on a formula that ensures a minimum of air time for all parties and takes into account past representation in the National Assembly and the number of candidates standing at provincial and national levels[12]

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Election management

Election period and dates National Assembly elections every 5 years, President elected by every new National Assembly; elections must take place within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly; date is announced by the President after consultation with the IEC and voting takes place from 07:00-21:00; the President does not have the power to dissolve the National Assembly and an Acting President may only do so if the National Assembly fails to fill a vacancy in the office of the President[13]
Delimitation of constituencies IEC determines the number of seats allocated to each constituency in national and provincial elections; half of the members of the National Assembly (between 350 and 400 members) are elected from a single national constituency while the nine provinces function as nine constituencies for the election of the other half and each as a single constituency for the election of the provincial legislatures (between 30 and 80 members each)[14]
Voter registration and voters' rolls Voter registration is continious, registration drives before elections; registration conducted by the chief electoral officer; the applicant is required to fill in form and provide identification; a registration bar-code is placed in the voter's ID book[15]
A single national voters' roll is compiled and maintained by the Chief Electoral Officer who must conduct periodic general registrations and publish the final product; the existing roll must always be available for inspection at the IEC's headoffice, relevant sections must be made available for inspection after general registrations and before elections at provincial and municipal levels; copies made from it must be supplied to anyone who pays the prescribed fee[16]
Civic and voter education The IEC is tasked with promoting "knowledge of sound and democratic electoral processes" and with promoting voter education; the IEC is empowered to accredit voter education agents and it has also funded non partisan organisations to undertake education in the past[17]
Candidate nomination Candidates for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures are nominated by means of lists submitted by registered political parties, which must include a deposit and a declaration of eligibility of those listed and a declaration by each candidate of acceptance of the code of conduct[18]
Election observation Observers, national and international, are accredited by the IEC and issued with a Code of Conduct for Accredited Observers[19]
Registered parties contesting elections are entitled to appoint agents to observe operations at locals where voting, counting and results determinations are made and declared[20]
Election campaigns A binding code of conduct governing the political activity of parties and candidates has been legislated and campaigning on election day is prohibited; other than these provisions no date or time restrictions are placed on campaigning nor yet on campaign expenditures and the use of public resourses for campaigning[21]
Conflict prevention and management The IEC commission members and its officers are empowered to resolve objections, appeals and code of conduct disputes through conciliation; the Electoral Court acts as the final court of appeal against IEC decisions[22]. Election petitions are heard by the courts, parties must submit complaints within 48 hours of the announcement of results[23]
Counting The counting of votes may be undertaken by the presiding officer (if appointed a counting officer) or by another so appointed[24]. Counting may take place at the polling station or at some other venue. The exact procedure may thus vary according to local circumstances, but the votes are counted by the counting officer in the presence of the party agents and observers (if any)[25]
Announcement of results The counting officer announces the result at the voting/counting station to members of the public and agents present and informs the IEC of the result. The IEC must, within seven days, determine and declare the result of an election by adding together the results received from all voting stations[26]

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Table notes

[1] Constitution of the Republic of SA 1996, Article 46. Half the seats are allocated to national lists and the other half to regional lists compiled by the parties (Electoral Act 73 of 1998, Schedule 1A).
[2] Constitution of the Republic of SA 1996, Article 86.
[3] Constitution of the Republic of SA 1996, Article 190, 191.
[4] Electoral Commission Act 1996, 20.
[5] Electoral Commission Act 1996, 6, 7(1)(a), 18. The inter-party committee exams a list of at least eight nominations submitted by a panel consisting of the President of the Constitutional Court (Chair) and representatives of the Human Rights Commission, the Commission on Gender Equality and the Public Prosecutor. The removal must be recommended by the Electoral Court and the member found in dereliction by a committee of the National Assembly.
[6] Electoral Commission Act 1996, 19. No specific provision is made is made for the removal of the members but, given the status of the Electoral Court, the same would apply as for judges generally, who are removable by the President for incapacity, gross incompetence or misconduct only on a two-thirds majority resolution of the Assembly (Constitution of the Republic of SA 1996, Article 177).
[7] Regulation 824 dated 18 June 1998 ito the Electoral Commission Act No. 51 of 1996.
[8] Electoral Commission Act 1996, 15(1),(6).
[9] Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act 1997, 5(2)(a); for more on this legislation see Fick, G 1998 Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act, EISA. For a discussion of the debate in South Africa on the lack of regulation of private funding see Masterson & Letsholo, 92-97.
[10] Electoral Act 1998, 27(2)(a), 30, 100, Schedule 2; "Code 1998".
[11] ICASA 2004.
[12] ICASA 2004, Annexure B.
[13] Constitution of the Republic of SA 1996, Articles, 46, 49(1), 50, 86(1); Electoral Act 1998, 17(1), 36. The National Assembly may prematurely dissolve itself by a majority vote, but only once it has completed three years of its term.
[14] Constitution 1996, 46, 105; Electoral Act 73 of 1998, Schedule 1A, 2, 12.
[15] Electoral Commission Act 1996, 5(d), (k). The IEC is responsible for accrediting suppliers of voter education and issues a code of conduct regulating these bodies (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 86). According to Tom Lodge (2004 39), non-accredited bodies are denied access to IEC funding (p 39).
[16] Electoral Act 1998, 5, 11, 12, 14, 16, 24.
[17] Electoral Commission Act 1996, 5-8, 14, 86; Booysen & Masterson 2009, 421.
[18] Electoral Commission Act 1996, 27.
[19] Electoral Act 1998, 84; Regulations on the Accreditation of Observers, 1999, Schedule B.
[20] Electoral Act 1998, 58(1). However, the absence of agents at a venue does not negate the electoral activities undertaken there (section 59(2)).
[21] Electoral Act 1998, 99, 108, Schedule 2: Electoral Code of Conduct.
[22] Electoral Act 1998, 103, 103A.
[23] Electoral Act 1998, 96.
[24] Electoral Act 1998, 76, 77.
[25] Electoral Act 1998, 77(2) cf 73(3). Counting usually takes place at the polling station except for mobile stations (Lodge 2004, 63).
[26] Electoral Act 1998, 50(2), (3); 57. If outstanding results will not materially affect the outcome then the announcement may be made before they are in. If the IEC is unable to announce the results within seven days it must apply to the Electoral Court for an extension.

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BOOYSEN, S & MASTERSON, G 2009 "Chapter 11: South Africa" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg.

CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF SA 1996, [www] [opens new window] (accessed 7 Feb 2011).

ELECTORAL ACT 73 1998, includes amendments of 2000 and 2003, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 7 Feb 2011).

ELECTORAL COMMISSION ACT 51 1996, amended 2003, 2004, [www] [opens new window] (accessed 7 Feb 2011).

ICASA 2004 "Regulations relating to party election broadcasts, political advertisements, the equitable treatment of political parties by broadcasting licensees and related matters in respect of the 2004 general election", [www] Guidelines_-_2004_Elections_eng.pdf(offline 9 Mar 2010).

IEC UNDATEDc "SCHEDULE B: Code of Conduct for Accredited Observers:, [www] [opens new window] (accessed 7 Feb 2011).

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: MUNICIPAL DEMARCATION ACT 27 1998, [www] [MS Word document] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: MUNICIPAL ELECTORAL ACT 27 2000, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).


LODGE, T 2004 Handbook of South African Electoral Laws and Regulations 2004, EISA.

MASTERSON G & LETSHOLO, S 2005 "The new challenges of democratic assistance in South Africa", IN South Africa's 2004 Election: The quest for democratic consolidation, Piper, L (ed), EISA Research Report No 12.

PUBLIC FUNDING OF REPRESENTED POLITICAL PARTIES ACT 103 1997, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

REGULATIONS ON THE ACCREDITATION OF OBSERVERS, 1999, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 30 Mar 2011).

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