Further from the people – bipartisan ‘nationalisation’ thwarting the electoral system
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This chapter argues that local government elections offer a unique opportunity in South Africa’s political system for voters to practice forms of democracy that are more local, plural and accountable in character than at provincial or national level. A key reason for this is the mixed electoral system where half of all councillors are directly elected from the wards in which they live. The 2011 election supplied significant evidence of voters attempting to make use of this opportunity, particularly around the candidate selection process of the major parties, and through the accountability talk that dominated public debate. However, analysis of both ‘supply’ (party behaviour) and ‘demand’ (voter choice) suggests that this democratic potential was outweighed by bipartisan politics between the ANC and DA which affirmed the national over the local, a choice between two parties over many, and reinforced identity-based political loyalties over the direct accountability of politicians. In short, the 2011 elections were rendered a proxy for a national competition, frustrating much of the unique democratic potential that local government elections offer, effectively taking local politics further from the people. The proposal to hold national, provincial and local elections simultaneously in the future will further impede the democratic potential of the local electoral system.