The 2014 general election promises to be the most fiercely contested poll we have had since the advent of democracy in 1994. The build-up to the election has seen drama playing itself out on the political stage, with acts such as the formation of Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang SA and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Several people got injured this week in Freedom Park, south of Johannesburg, when the supporters of the EFF and the ANC confronted each other during a campaign in the area. While it is not clear which of the two parties was the aggressor in the scuffle, the incident highlights the growing trend of political intolerance. A few days before that, alleged ANC supporters had booed Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in front of President Jacob Zuma at the launch of the Saldanha Bay industrial development zone. The heckling of a premier and leader of the official opposition turned what was supposed to be the launch of a state infrastructure programme into a political spectacle. A violent demonstration also took place in the Cape Town city centre, where protesters had gathered supposedly to demand better services from the municipality. These incidents are perhaps early signposts to the kind of polls we are headed for next year. Opinion is divided on whether the 2014election will be dirty. Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst from the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, reckons that the elections are likely to be particularly competitive because of the entrance of new parties. The question is how big a share of the electoral cake the ANC will lose to Agang, the EFF and the DA, he says. Fakir reckons that even though the protests are unconventional in the Western Cape, the demands are the same as those made by the communities in Balfour in Mpumalanga or Bekkersdal in Gauteng. “I don’t think it’s purely about dislodging the DA, but it’s about the lack of accountability, powerlessness and inequality,” he says. Cherrel Africa, the head of the department of political studies at the University of the Western Cape, says while the polls are likely to be dirty, this is unlikely to affect the integrity with which they are managed. “Even if it gets rough, it will be contained. Even in KwaZulu-Natal [where there were clashes between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the National Freedom Party] it has been contained,” she says. The tactics parties are using to gain the competitive edge, Africa says, could have the adverse effect of putting voters off the electoral process. The cynicism this breeds feeds into declining voter participation, she says. According to Kealeboga Maphunye, who holds the Wiphold, Brigalia Bam research chair in electoral democracy at Unisa, it is necessary for the Independent Electoral Commission to ensure that parties observe the code of conduct they always pledge to abide by during the elections.