South Africans abroad barely e

South Africans abroad barely elect half an MP

With little more than 26,000 South African ex-pats registering to vote for the upcoming national elections, headlines alleging that collective votes abroad will only elect “half an MP” may be disheartening for some.

South Africans abroad barely e

WITH four weeks to go until expatriates around the globe will finally cast their votes in the 2014 South African general elections on 30 April, some discouraging statistics have emerged detailing what little the polls abroad will actually accomplish, and how little Saffas abroad seem to be doing to pull their weight for democracy.

According to statistics published by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the collective expat votes expected to be cast this year will only amount to half the number of ballots needed to elect one Member of Parliament, as voter registrations are extremely low.

With 44,000 votes required to elect a single member of Parliament, and the number of registered voters barely peaking above 26,700 at the close of registration, it would appear there is little leverage to be gained from the expat vote – especially while it is still unknown how many of the registered voters will actually show up at the polls.

What may be more depressing than the disheartening nature of these statistics is the fact that political parties now seem to start wrestling for these votes abroad months – if not years – in advance, as if these voters were to become the kingmakers of the election process. The campaigns aimed at grabbing expat votes arguably squander millions of rands of party funds, which do not appear to translate into any gains for democracy on the whole, as these statistics reveal.

The number of South Africans living abroad is estimated at about two million, which includes under 18-year-olds, who can register but are not allowed to vote. Despite this, it is still likely that the registered voter number therefore is only between 3 – 5 per cent of all Saffas outside Mzansi.

In the UK, only about 10,000 out of 240,000 eligible voters appear to have registered for the upcoming national elections, as the High Commission on Trafalgar Square in London is the only place to cast ballots, making it a difficult undertaking for those who have to travel long distances. The same problem seems to be amplified in Perth, Australia, and Vancouver, Canada, where South Africans live literally thousands of kilometres away from their nearest embassies to participate in the elections.

Despite heavy efforts since the last 2009 elections to streamline and facilitate the vote abroad, led by the Freedom Front Plus and the Democratic Alliance, registration numbers have been more than discouraging, which can only be partly blamed on voter apathy. The newly introduced processes involve filling out an online form called VEC10 ahead of the election, which might be a challenge for less computer-literate South Africans.

Despite the wide-ranging reforms to the vote abroad under the 2013 Electoral Amendment Act, it would appear that there is still room for much improvement in the democratic process – both within and outside of South Africa.

By Sertan Sanderson, 2014