Democracy in action post-elections

South Africans have gone to the polls and their voice has been heard. Following two days of vote counting, it was announced that the ANC will continue to lead the country for the next five years.

The Presidency is now preparing for the inauguration of the President, which will take place on Africa Day, 25 May, at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane.

National Assembly’s first sitting

On Monday Parliament announced that the first sitting of the new National Assembly (NA) is provisionally scheduled for 22 May.

Just who fills the seats of the NA – and the nine provincial legislatures – is determined by the number of votes that a political party received during the election.  A party needs between 40 000 and 45 000 votes to get one seat.

As per Section 52 and Schedule 3 of the South African Constitution, the NA will elect a new Speaker at its first sitting. South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng will preside over these proceedings.

The new Speaker then presides over the election of a Deputy Speaker and the President. These elections are done via a secret ballot and candidates have to obtain an absolute majority to win.

Once elected, the President must be sworn into office within five days.

The Cabinet

The President then selects and appoints the Cabinet, which is made up of the President, Deputy President and ministers. Each minister leads a government department. For example, the Minister of Finance leads the Department of Finance.

In terms of Section 91(2) of the Constitution, the President has absolute power to appoint the Deputy President and ministers, to assign their powers and functions, and to dismiss them.

The President may select any number of ministers from the members of the NA, but not more than two ministers from outside the NA. The President also appoints a member of the Cabinet to be the Leader of Government Business in the NA.

The Presidency has five political principals, namely the President, who is the head of state and government; the Deputy President, who is the Leader of Government Business (in Parliament); the Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and Administration; the Minister of Women and the Deputy Minister for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.

Proportional representation

Voters vote for a political party, not for individuals. However, once political parties are allocated seats in the NA, they can choose who represents them in Parliament. This is called a proportional representation (PR) voting system.

Prior to the elections, political parties submit a list of their candidates to the Independent Electoral Commission. They list their candidates in order of preference. If they win five seats, the top five names on the list will represent the party in Parliament.

An advantage of the PR electoral system is that smaller political parties are included and represented and legislatures are made up of people with different interests.

A democratic nation

South Africa is a representative democracy, which means that citizens do not govern the country themselves, they elect other people to represent them in government.

Our Constitution cites three spheres of government: national, provincial and local. Citizens choose their political party in elections for national government, which includes (Parliament); provincial government (the nine provincial legislatures); and local government (municipalities and district councils).

National government makes and carries out laws and policies for the whole country, while provincial government makes and carries out laws and policies that affect the province only. National government is led by the President and ministers, while provincial government is led by premiers and members of the executive council.

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