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Pretoria - During South Africa’s transition to democracy, those handing over power negotiated hard for an electoral system based on proportional representation. As a result, even at the local level only half the seats in municipal councils are directly contested – the other half get allocated according to each party’s share of the total votes.

In SA’s eight metropolitan municipalities where 38% of its population live, the 2011 municipal elections were contested in 709 wards. The ANC candidate prevailed in 449 (63%) of them and the DA in 251 (35%). Only eight of the wards (1%) were won by someone from outside these two parties. But of 1 415 council seats in the eight metros, the ANC filled 794 (56%); the DA 507 (36%) and other parties a disproportionate 114 (8%).

With the emerging EFF eating away ANC votes and the DA continuing to gather momentum, the system is suddenly extremely relevant. Even though most fringe parties won’t win a single ward, they could still hold the balance of power in a number of municipalities.

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