The constitution says that elections for Parliament must be held once every five years. Every citizen over the age of 18 who is registered can vote. The group of people who are entitled to vote is called the electorate. If the majority of voters are not satisfied with what the government has been doing, they will be able to vote it out of power. The party that wins the next election will become the majority party and will therefore be able to form a new government.
There are two kinds of electoral systems,
- Constituency-based elections
Voters in each local area (constituency) elect an individual candidate to represent them in Parliament. The person who wins the majority of votes in each constituency becomes a Member of Parliament. The partly with the majority of MPs forms the government. In this kind of elections system the individual MP holds the seat, not the political party he or she belongs to.
- Proportional representation elections
Voters in a large area vote for political parties. The political party chooses the people who will become its MPs. Each party is allocated a number of seats proportional to how many votes it got in the election.
Before 1994 South Africa made use of constituency-based elections, but since then national and provincial elections have used proportional representation and party lists. Local government elections use a mixture of proportional representation and constituency-based elections.
Parliament is elected using proportional representation and party lists. Before the election each political party submits a list of its candidates in a numbered order of preference. The seats of Parliament are allocated in proportion to the number of votes cast in the election. This means a party that won 10% of the votes will get 10% of the seats. If a party wins 20 seats, the first 20 people on its party list will become MPs.