Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

With only 65.36% of registered voters making the trip to the polls to vote this week, the 2019 election is set to record the lowest ever turnout in SA’s democratic history.

Although still high by international standards — in many established democracies only about 60% of registered voters turn out at election time — analysts say that the decline in the turnout may be an indication that the health of SA’s democracy is deteriorating.

While a small decline in turn out had been expected by both parties and analysts, the eight percentage point drop since the last national election five years ago is much larger than anticipated.

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Analyst and University of Johannesburg research professor Steven Friedman said he did not believe the low turnout was a result of voter apathy.

“The obvious point to make is that the parties are not reaching large numbers of people. This is not apathy. People are trying to make a statement. We know that this also happened in 2016 in the municipal elections. It does point to growing disillusionment with politics,” Friedman said.

Despite growing disillusionment with the governing party, large sections of the electorate had not been able to find a new political home, he said.

“There is a huge hole in our politics. Under the current circumstances we don’t have an opposition party that can galvanise people who are upset with the governing party,” Friedman said.

Political analyst at Wits Business School Prof Mzukisi Qobo agreed that the shortage of attractive options for voters was in part responsible for the low turnout. This is despite the record number of parties — 48 — that contested the election.

“Essentially there is isn't much option in the political market place. The large number of parties contesting the election has not made voting more attractive as most of those parties are not credible,” Qobo says.

Live results of the national vote in the 2019 general elections

Some traditional but disillusioned supporters of the ANC stayed away and chose not to vote “as they have not yet broken the psychological barrier to vote for someone else”.

Younger people had also not been provided with a compelling enough reason to vote and so had stayed home or failed to register.

Turnout was lowest in Limpopo at 58.37% and highest in Gauteng at 71.88%, the IEC said.

Turnout is calculated on the number of registered voters, which stands at 26.7-million. Another 10-million people eligible to vote did not register and are therefore not included in the turnout statistics.

patonc@businesslive.co.za