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Pretoria - Electioneering for Wednesday’s vote reached its climax this weekend with political parties determinedly upbeat and pulling out all the razzmatazz, cut according to the party’s budget, to host their final rallies in Joburg, Pretoria, Mthatha, Ulundi and Seshego.
Broadcast regulations mean the airwaves will be free from party political adverts from Monday, although election posters will remain on lamp-posts.
There are less than 48 hours left to touch base with would-be voters before the ban on electioneering rallies and political meetings kicks in at midnight on Tuesday, according to electoral rules.
As South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, this year’s election manifestos, almost without fail, focused on jobs, infrastructure and the fight against corruption - and party leaders, senior officials and tens of thousands of volunteers in recent weeks knocked on doors, attended rallies and engaged professionals, students and just about anyone else of voting age.
But has it been enough?
South Africans would go to vote to celebrate their right - a voter turn-out in the low 70 percentages was expected - but excitement was lacking, said Professor Susan Booysen of the Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management.
“All the building blocks are there, but they don’t build up to an election that is exciting,” she said, adding that there were too many ambiguities and ethical and leadership questions.
Ebrahim Fakir, political parties and parliamentary programme manager at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (Eisa), said much electioneering was “negative campaigning”, with not enough focus on issues, from the side of the governing ANC and the opposition DA.
“Political parties have done what they could, given their resources. I don’t get the sense the campaigns were as strenuous or as energetic or even as widespread as was the case previously,” Fakir said. “We’ll only know when we have the voter turn-out.”
Centre for the Study of Democracy director Steven Friedman agreed that political parties “have done about enough” and while many attended rallies, it was the organisation on the ground where the work needed to be done.
Voter turn-out would be the key, he said: “The two major parties (the ANC and DA) tend to pull out all the stops and they know what to do... The smaller parties lose the plot.”
However, Friedman cautioned against overplaying the demise of smaller parties as many like the ACDP, United Democratic Movement and Freedom Front Plus had found their niche.
In the past two elections the trend shows that, despite increasing voter registration levels, proportionately fewer voters have gone out to make their mark.
In 1999 about 18 million of the 25.4 million voting-age population were registered - and 16.2 million voted. In 2009, 17.9 million cast their ballots although 23.1 million of the 31.6 million voting-age population was registered, according to Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) statistics.
This year, the IEC has registered a record 25 362 173 voters from a population of 52 million, but about 9 million South Africans of voting age did not get themselves on to the voters roll.
And despite much focus on the “born-frees”, those born after South Africa’s transition to democracy in 1994, only just over 652 000 of 18- and 19-year-olds are registered voters. Among the 20- to 29-year-olds, just over 5.75 million are registered voters, according to the IEC.
According to the Sunday Times Ipsos poll, the ANC stood around 63 percent nationally, down a bit from 2009, with the DA around 23 percent, which would represent a gain of just over 6 percent, and newcomers, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at just under 5 percent. While the ANC in recent days talked of “an overwhelming majority”, rather than gaining a two-thirds majority, the DA revised its much-touted 30 percent voting support to about 25 percent.