|The Republic of South Africa entered into a new constitutional dispensation in 1994. As part of this new constitutional dispensation, a new electoral system, i.e. the closed-list proportional representative electoral system, was adopted. This electoral system was accepted for elections on a national level of representatives for the National Assembly and has certain advantages and disadvantages. Some political scientists, political parties and opinion formers are of the opinion that this electoral system brings about poor contact between the representatives in the National Assembly (Parliament) and the voters. Critics are also of the opinion that party leaders obtain too much power within this electoral system, in that the parties appoint candidates to the candidate lists. In elections, voters vote for specific political parties and therefore do not have a choice with regard to who their representatives are. The result is that South Africa adheres to the representative aspect of democracy, but is lacking with regard to the accounting of representatives to voters. The legitimacy of Parliament is impaired by this defect.
The aim of this study is to provide a critical analysis and investigate alternative frameworks of the South African electoral system and its functioning on a national level. In the analysis it is determined to what extent the South African electoral system meets the criteria set for an electoral system to ensure the legitimacy of Parliament, a sustainable representative democracy and an accountable government in the long term in the country. This analysis and evaluation was used to determine whether the existing closed-list proportional representative electoral system is the most suitable electoral system for South Africa and, if not, to identify and analyse an alternative electoral system for South Africa. The analysis entails a literature overview analysis of electoral systems.
From the study it appears that modern democracies use a wide variety of different electoral systems. There is consensus that no single best electoral system exists which could be used by all countries, since every country has its distinctive circumstances and an electoral system’s functioning and outcomes are affected by it. In this study, twelve different electoral systems are identified with specific advantages and disadvantages. Criteria were set with which electoral systems had to comply in order to promote democracy and ensure the legitimacy of Parliament. These criteria require that electoral systems have to promote and ensure broad representation, accessible and meaningful elections, reconciliation, stable and effective government, accountability of government, accountability of representatives, promotion of political parties, opposition and oversight, sustainability of the electoral process, and international standards.
The listed criteria were placed in order of priority according to those which are the most important in the current South African circumstances. In accordance with this, an evaluation model was drawn up which was quantified in order to calculate the extent to which every electoral system met the requirements and priority order. In determining the order of priority of the requirements in the criteria, the historical circumstances of South Africa, of discord, conflict, racial hatred, riots and suspicion between races, were taken into account.
When applying the evaluation model to the twelve different electoral systems, it was found that the current closed-list proportional representative electoral system is the most suitable electoral system for South Africa and should be retained.
In terms of the criticism of the current electoral system, the conclusion drawn is that electoral systems cannot ensure the measure of accountability of representatives. It is ensured by the internal rules and discipline of the political parties they represent. The contribution of electoral systems to the accountability of representatives is to ensure that voters have a choice between more than one candidate, or more than one political party at a following election. Furthermore, electoral systems also do not appoint candidates in an election; the respective political parties appoint them. In any appointment of candidates, the leadership and party bureaucracy will play a specific role, regardless of the type of electoral system.