Registered users can save articles to their personal articles list. Login here or sign up here

The mathematics of an election

A few calculations show how easily small political parties can get into parliament and earn huge salaries.

There are two major reasons why voters will collect an extra-large ballot paper on Wednesday and need to search through 48 parties to find their preferred choice.

Firstly, a member of parliament of even the smallest party earns a salary of R91 000 per month. Secondly, it is not that difficult to get elected.

Sitting on one of the back benches in parliament is not a very demanding job either.

The mathematics is easy. South Africa has one of the largest parliaments in the world relative to the size of its population, with 400 seats up for grabs every five years.

Any politician, aspiring politician, fired civil servant or failed executive needs to gain only 0.25% of the votes cast on election day to secure a seat and the perks attached to that seat.

The operative phrase is the number of votes cast on voting day, with a low voting turnout usually benefitting smaller, more radical parties. The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) announced last month that a total of 26.74 million people had registered to vote in the election, commenting that more than 15 million citizens who are of voting age and eligible to vote are not registered.

Of the registered voters, the IEC expects around 70% – equal to just more than 18.7 million people – to actually cast their votes. The voting turnout in the 2014 national election was 73%.


People queue at a voting station in Umlazi during the 2016 local government elections. Picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Assuming 18.7 million people cast their votes, the 0.25% needed by a candidate to score a seat in parliament amounts to 46 790.

It is a daunting number, but not impossible when targeting unhappy people with radical messages and inspiring them to vote.

It gets easier when lazy citizens or more moderate voters don’t bother to vote at all.

If turnout drops to 60%, a candidate needs just over 40 000 votes to get to parliament.

If 80% of registered voters go and vote, the unknown small party with untested or unrealistic ideals will need 53 474 votes to get a seat in parliament.

Strong, emotional arguments that motivate people to go and make their mark on the ballot paper have been successful worldwide – from Europe, where right-wing political groups have made gains, to the UK’s Brexit vote that took so many by surprise. The results show that when voters are passionate enough about their views, they are passionate enough to turn out at polling stations to make a difference at the expense of their more moderate and relaxed adversaries.

Power and perception

In some quarters it may seem that the EFF is the official opposition in SA, rather than the DA. Yet the EFF has 25 seats (just more than 6% of the vote in 2014) while the DA has 89 (22%).

And once elected, radical parties might have a bigger influence on political recourse than their supporter numbers might suggest.

At provincial, district and municipal level the smaller parties end up with even more power as they can demand critical positions or enforce their views on important decisions if the specific authority needs their support in a coalition or when issues are tabled.

Of the 29 political parties that contested the 2014 national election, 13 won enough support to get seats in parliament. The smallest, the African People’s Convention and the Pan Africanist Congress, got a single seat each.

Prosperity via parliament 

The salaries and perks are akin to winning a (small) lottery. A member of parliament earns a basic salary of R1.1 million per annum or R91 000 per month. That’s a cool R5.5 million over a five-year term.

The leader of a minority party will earn R1.3 million per annum while its whip R1.2 million. This is applicable to all smaller parties, even the eight small parties with only one to four seats each.

The leader of the official opposition earns R1.6 million and its whip R1.3 million. There is extra cash for chairing one of parliament’s many committees.

But the winners in the salary stakes are the winners of the election. The president earns R3.6 million per annum, the deputy president earns R2.8 million, a minister R2.4 million and a deputy minister a few rand short of R2 million. The speaker of parliament earns R2.8 million per annum.

In addition, opportunities might arise to assist friends and family in securing jobs somewhere in the structure as well, or maybe a lucrative contract.


Get access to Moneyweb's financial intelligence and support quality journalism for only
R63/month or R630/year.
Sign up here, cancel at any time.



To comment, you must be registered and logged in.


Don't have an account?
Sign up for FREE

Those salaries are absurd. They should be getting a quarter of that, with an annual increase of GDP growth -2%. Then we can see how many posters go up saying “DON’T vote for…”.

Scarey. No wonder there are so many corrupt people pushing false promises to the ignorant masses.

Amazing that these people, the bulk of which have minimal skills and add zero value are getting paid R1m a year.

400 seats means that Parliament just in salaries costs close to half a billion a year, with almost no value add. Just cut that in half and build a few schools.

That is also before other services they receive, protection, housing, lunch daily, transport etc. I would not be surprised if Parliament costs upwards of R2bn a year.

Thank you for this article. So sad, but this is what it is about for many of them: simply the money.

If LPs were forced to use government hospitals and schools, on the other hand, it might have been different.

So, the question remains, where or to whom do I submit my CV?

These salaries are ridiculous and to add insult to injury I have had endless emails and text messages from a certain party, who shall remain nameless, asking me to donate money to support their campaign in these elections !

To be in the Financial Services industry, I’m required to accumulate at least 18 CPD (Continuous Professional Development)points, whilst I do not earn a fixed income. I have to get 18 points a year, or loose my license.
It was sad (and funny) to see Parliamentarians struggle to get to grips when Markus Jooste (Steinhoff) testified. 90% of the panel had absolutely no clue of what has happened.
Members of Parliament can study and improve themselves, with Taxpayers paying for that improvement. Virtually no-one makes use of this facility.
They should all be forced to also get 18 CPD points per year, or loose their seats.

I just saw saw ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete’s latest remarks. “(We) liberated this country so we would have expected more.” Truly astounding arrogance.

Load All 10 Comments
End of comments.


Insider GOLD
ONLY R63pm

Moneyweb's premium subscription is a membership service which will give you access to a number of tools to take charge of your investments.
Or choose a yearly subscription at R630pa - SAVE R126

Get instant access to all our tools and content. Monthly subscription can be suspended at any time.



Follow us:

Search Articles:Advanced Search
Click a Company: