South Africa has a “Proportional Represention” system for allocating votes in the National and Provincial legislatures. This means that the political power of each party is proportional to the number of votes they received in each election.

 

PROVINCE Number of seats in Legislature Approx percentage of votes needed to win a seat
Eastern Cape 63 1.59
Free State 30 3.33
Gauteng 73 1.37
KwaZulu-Natal 80 1.25
Limpopo 49 2.04
Mpumalanga 30 3.33
North West 33 3.03
Northern Cape 30 3.33
Western Cape 42 2.38
RSA 400 0.25
     

 

 

At national level there are 48 political parties competing for the 400 seats in the National Assembly. These seats in parliament are to be allocated in proportion to the number of votes each party receives. For example, if half of the votes cast are for political party “A”, that party should get half the seats in the National Assembly.

In order to win a single seat in the National Assembly, a political party thus has to win 0.25 percent of the votes cast.

The same method of allocation seats (votes) is used in each of the nine Provincial Legislatures.

The Provincial Legislatures are far smaller than the National Assembly and a higher proportion of votes are needed to win each of the seats in the Provincial Legislatures. The number of seats in the Provincial Legislatures also vary greatly.

Every province has at least 30 seats and the largest, KwaZulu-Natal, has 80 (see the table above). Because there are a smaller number of seats in Provincial Legislatures, political parties have to win higher proportions of the votes cast.  In provinces with 30 seats political parties have to win just over 3 percent of the votes cast in order to gain a seat. In KwaZulu-Natal each 1.25 percent of valid votes cast should result in an additional seat in the legislature.

As the results of an ever larger number voting districts become available, there is increasing clarity as to what the turnout rate is. Once the turnout rate is known along with the proportion of votes each party received, the focus of the election shifts from the ‘race for votes’ to the ‘race for seats’.

In terms of being able to influence legislation, it is actually the number of votes in the legislatures that matters more to parties, rather than just the number of votes cast in their favour.