On May 29, South Africans will vote in national and provincial elections to elect a new National Assembly and state legislatures. The National Assembly will choose the president for the next five years.

It will be the country’s seventh democratic general election since apartheid ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected president with the ANC winning 62.5 percent of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.

After 30 years of dominance, the African National Congress (ANC) faces its toughest election yet, needing 50 percent of the National Assembly to maintain its parliamentary majority.

INTERACTIVE - South Africa elections 2024 - South Africa at a glance-1716730775
(Al Jazeera)

When do polls open?

A total of 23,292 polling stations will be open from 7am to 9pm (05:00 GMT to 19:00 GMT), with election day declared a public holiday to facilitate voting.

According to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), 27.79 million South Africans aged 18 and above have registered for the elections this year up from 26.74 million in 2019.

Registered voters living abroad cast their votes on May 17 and 18 and voters with special needs, including pregnant women and people with disabilities, will cast their ballots two days before election day on May 27 and 28.

How does the election work?

South Africa follows a proportional voting system where parties and candidates compete for 400 seats in the parliament known as the National Assembly.

For the first time, independent candidates will compete in the elections. To accommodate this change, voters will receive three ballots instead of two, each requiring a choice of one party or candidate.

Two ballots will be for electing the National Assembly, and the third will be for electing members of the provincial legislature in each of South Africa’s nine provinces.

South Africa’s election management body, the IEC, cleared 14,889 candidates, including 70 political parties and 11 independents, to contest 887 seats in the May vote.

INTERACTIVE - South Africa elections 2024 - how voting works-1716785010
(Al Jazeera)
  • National ballot (Blue ballot)
    • Same ballot across the country
    • Voters elect one of 52 political parties
    • Represents 200 seats in the National Assembly
  • Regional national assembly (Orange ballot)
    • Unique to each province
    • Voters elect either a political party or an independent candidate
    • Represents the remaining 200 seats in the National Assembly
  • Provincial legislature (Pink ballot)
    • Unique to each province
    • Voters elect political parties and independent candidates
    • The number of seats is determined by the population size in each province

Who is in South Africa’s current National Assembly?

South Africa’s lower house of parliament currently includes 14 political parties represented by 400 members, allocated proportionally based on the votes each party received in the 2019 elections.

  • African National Congress (ANC): 230 seats (57.5 percent)
  • Democratic Alliance (DA): 84 seats (21 percent)
  • Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF): 44 seats (11 percent)
  • Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): 14 seats (3.5 percent)

Ten other parties make up the remaining 28 seats.

INTERACTIVE - South Africa elections 2024 - current national assembly-1716730760
(Al Jazeera)

How is the president in South Africa elected?

South Africans do not directly vote for the president.

Instead, they elect 400 members of the National Assembly, who then select the president by a simple majority – 201 or more votes determine the presidency.

If the ANC secures more than 50 percent of the seats, President Cyril Ramaphosa, 71, will most likely be re-elected as president to serve his second and final five-year term.

INTERACTIVE - South Africa elections 2024 - Ramaphosa and ANC-1716730770
(Al Jazeera)

What if no party receives a majority?

Opinion polls suggest the governing ANC, which is hovering at about 40 percent, will likely lose its majority.

If this happens, then the ANC will need to try to make a deal with other parties to form a coalition government, with the choice of coalition partner depending on their distance from the 50 percent mark.

Nevertheless, unless the ANC performs much worse than expected, there is a slim chance they could be completely removed from government.

How has the ANC performed in previous elections?

The ANC has won every election since the end of apartheid in 1994 when Mandela became the country’s first Black president.

In the 1994 and 1999 elections, the ANC won 62.5 percent and 66.36 percent of the votes, respectively, with high voter turnouts of 86 percent and 89 percent.

In 2004, amid a lower voter turnout of 76 percent, the ANC reached its highest levels, clinching almost 70 percent of the vote and securing Thabo Mbeki a second term as president.

In September 2008, Kgalema Motlanthe assumed the role of caretaker president after President Mbeki resigned, at the request of his party. He held this position until 2009 when Jacob Zuma took office following the ANC’s victory with nearly 66 percent of the vote.

Five years later, in the 2014 elections, the ANC emerged victorious but with a reduced share of the vote at 62 percent. The Democratic Alliance (DA) made significant gains, securing 22 percent of the vote. The newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party under former African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) President Julius Malema garnered 6 percent of the vote.

In 2018, following years of internal disputes and scandals, Zuma announced his resignation, leading Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to assume the presidency.

In the 2019 elections, voter turnout hit a low of 66 percent, with the ANC receiving 57.5 percent of the vote.

INTERACTIVE - South Africa elections - previous election results-1716730754
(Al Jazeera)

Who is likely to win?

Four of the biggest players to watch out for in this year’s election are the ANC, the DA, the MK and the EFF.

INTERACTIVE - South Africa elections 2024 -major political parties-1716730781
(Al Jazeera)

ANC – Cyril Ramaphosa (71)

According to the most recent opinion poll by local broadcaster eNCA, support for the ANC stands at about 43.4 percent – a two-point increase from two months ago.

The ANC is expected to win majorities in seven out of South Africa’s nine provinces.

However, it is projected to be defeated by Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and also in the Western Cape, where the DA is poised for another victory.

DA – John Steenhuisen (48)

Polling in second with about 18.6 percent is the country’s official opposition DA, which has been campaigning on a platform to “rescue South Africa”.

The DA currently holds a majority in South Africa’s Western Cape province, with Cape Town as its capital city. In the 2019 elections, it won 55.45 percent of the vote in the province.

MK – Jacob Zuma (82)

The MK party, named after the ANC’s former paramilitary wing uMkhonto we Sizwe (meaning “Spear of the Nation”), is currently polling in third at 14.1 percent.

The party led by former President Zuma was formed in 2023 and is expected to gain seats from the ANC.

In May, South Africa’s Constitutional Court barred Zuma from running for parliament following his 2021 contempt of court conviction; however, he remains the face of the party and is expected to present a candidate from the party as his stand-in.

EFF – Julius Malema (43)

Bringing up the top four, with 11.4 percent, is the anti-establishment EFF led by Julius Malema.

Formerly an ally of Zuma, Malema was expelled from the ANC in 2012 due to his disagreements with the then-president and other party members. He then went on to establish the EFF in 2013.

When will the results be announced?

The IEC normally begins releasing partial results within hours of polls closing.

In the last national election held on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, the final results were announced three days later on Saturday, May 11.

However, this year, with one more ballot to count, verifying results may take longer.

The IEC says it will announce the election results on Sunday, June 2.

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