Explainer: How to vote in South Africa’s general election

South Africa’s post-apartheid democracy is 30 years old and has seen six general elections held successfully to the 400-seat National Assembly.

On Wednesday, 29 May, the country’s 27.6 million registered voters will be called to polling stations to choose the parliament that will then pick a president.

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Here is how the system works:

Three ballots

Voters who turn out in their assigned district will receive three ballots: a blue one called “national”, an orange “regional” and a pink “provincial”.

The “National Compensatory Ballot” lists 52 registered political parties alongside photos of their leaders, their logo, name and abbreviation, with a box to mark.

This will be used to elect 200 members of the National Assembly based on a proportional party-list system.

The “Regional or Province-to-National” ballot features the same parties and adds some independent standalone candidates – it will elect the remaining 200 seats.

Voters can thus vote for two parties if they choose a different one on the second ballot.

The third ballot lists parties and independents standing in South Africa’s nine provincial assemblies.

The count

Counting the votes is expected to take around three days.

South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is a respected body and the results of the country’s democratic elections have never been questioned.

South Africa’s parliament sits in Cape Town, 1 300km from the seat of the executive government in the Union Buildings at the capital Pretoria.

At the last general election in 2019, the National Assembly reconvened two weeks after voting day and quickly re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had taken over a year earlier from the resigning Jacob Zuma.

He was officially sworn in three days later. Four days after that he named a cabinet.

Who chooses the president?

South Africa has an executive president who leads the government but is elected by a parliamentary system.

After the newly-elected parliament is seated, members will nominate presidential candidates from among their numbers and elect one by secret ballot.

Whoever gets 201 or more votes will become president.

This is likely to be one of the party leaders whose faces appear on the ballots, such as the frontrunner and incumbent Ramaphosa of the ruling ANC.

But one party leader, former president Zuma of the newly formed MK party, has been ruled ineligible to stand because of a previous conviction for contempt of court.

The ANC has provided all five of the presidents that have been elected since the advent of democracy, with their party always winning an absolute majority.

If, as opinion polls predict, the party falls under 201 seats next week, Ramaphosa or another ANC lawmaker will need to persuade MPs from other parties to back them.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse