Trust in the IEC and the political system is down – research shows

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Voter turnout is down because people are increasingly suspicious of political parties and believe their votes do not have the power to bring about change in South Africa.

IEC Vice President Janet Love welcomed everyone to the seminar. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

This is linked to the rising cost of living, unemployment, corruption, crime and political disillusionment.

All of this was revealed in the Democracy Research surveys conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Afrobarometer and Citizen Surveys, discussed by experts in Sandton on September 21.

Guests listen to the unpacking of research results. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

The conference room was packed with political activists, politicians, political scientists, media and leaders of community groups, who listened as panelists unpacked mountains of data collected over the past decades.

READ ALSO : South Africa, a leader in gender equality in politics

The experts focused on research from the CRSS in particular, which looked specifically at views on democracy. It has been found that the IEC is still the second most trusted public institution, with the courts being the first. Although trust in all public institutions is declining.

About 92% of voters consider the electoral processes to have been free and fair, and 97% of South Africans said they were satisfied with the secrecy of their vote.

Dr. Ben Roberts of the Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council reviews the research that has been carried out. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

Dr Ben Roberts of HSRC and Jan Hofmeyr of Afrobarometer and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation revealed that the main reason people don’t vote is that they don’t think their vote will make a difference.

The sense of duty people feel to vote has fallen from 86% in 2004 to 62% in 2021.

Program Director Cathy Mohlahlana addresses the researchers. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

A surprising 53% of people say people get gifts or money for voting for a particular party, and 46% of people think the rich buy elections.

Citizen Surveys’ Reza Omar discussed some of the socio-economic reasons for this, highlighting how hugely divided wealth is still.

In their presentations and the Q&A session that followed, the three researchers explained that instead of having political disinterest, there is a growing sense of fatalism. People resign themselves to believing that their situation will not be changed by the vote.

Dr. Aissa Halidou from Niger asks a question during the seminar. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

“Many South Africans believe that protesting can be more effective than voting in getting their message across,” Omar said.

The education system must be held accountable, they said, because young people of voting age know little about democracy and believe their voice has no power.

READ ALSO : Statistics on Democracy in South Africa

The response to disillusionment in democracy can also be remedied by better training of IEC officials to ensure that no problems arise at polling stations on election day.

Community groups and the media should also do more to show the public how voting effects change, and those in power are ultimately held accountable.

IEC Commissioner Dr. Nomsa Masuku poses a question to the researchers. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

The role of social media in perpetuating disillusionment with democracy should also be examined, they said.

A panel of four distinguished guests spoke later, including UJ Political Science Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana, Gender and Governance Associate at Gender Links, Susan Tolmay, Director of Programs at the AUWAL ASRI Socio-Economic Research Institute, Ebrahim Fakir, and the Professor of Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch, Dr Collete Schulz-Herzenberg.

Professor of political science at UJ, Mcebisi Ndletyana answers questions from the crowd. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

In a press release on the day, Sy Mamabolo, the Chief Electoral Officer said, “The Commission will leverage the positives emerging from these longitudinal surveys while working with all actors in the political system to address negative perceptions about democracy. electoral. Furthermore, the identified challenges that fall within the competence of the Commission will be taken into account in the electoral program before the 2024 elections.”

Cathy Mohlahlana, Jan Hofmeyr of Afrobarometer and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Dr. Ben Roberts of the council discuss the state of democracy in South Africa during the seminar. Photo: Nicolas Zaal

The presentation can be found on the IEC website.

Related article:

VOX POP: What is the state of democracy in South Africa?

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