Assessing pre-election political space in the 2011 local government elections

15 Oct 2013

The administration of elections in South Africa, including the 2011 local government elections(hereafter the 2011 elections), has widely been hailed as a resounding success. Yet competitive elections, an essential component of any democratic system, require more than smooth running administrative systems. Competitive elections require competitive campaigns and an environment where voters can vote and express their opinions without fear of retribution. In this article, we conduct a systematic assessment of pre-election space in the 2011 elections. We present a unique coding scheme developed by the Election Monitoring Network (EMN) to grade individual instances of electionrelated intolerance and intimidation. The coding scheme provides a framework to quantitatively assess a given campaign and election. We also present data on instances of pre-election intimidation and violence gathered by the EMN from 3 March until 13 May. The data reveal that whilst the vast majority of South Africans can vote and express their opinions without fear of retribution, there are underlying tensions which remain a cause for concern. When viewed in conjunction with the Afrobarometer survey data (2008) on perceptions of political space in South Africa, it becomes clear that pre-election campaign space is fragile and not given, and will therefore need to be nurtured in future elections.