History of elections in South Africa

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The South African general elections: 1981

From 1 January 1981, South Africa had a unicameral Parliament consisting of the House of Assembly only. It consisted of 177 members. Out of 177 members, 165 were elected for five years, 76 represented the Transvaal, 55 the Cape Province, 20 Natal and 14 the Orange Free State. Only 12 members, four (one for each province) were elected by the State President and eight were elected by the 165 popularly-chosen members according to the principle of proportional representation, each voter had one transferable vote. 

On 28 January 1981, Prime Minister P.W. Botha announced that the 1981 general election would be held on 29 April 1981, some 18 months before the normal expiry of their term of office. He justified this announcement by saying that 17 parliamentary and 13 provincial by-elections were due, and said that the elections would be fought on the theme of "security and progress". Political observers argued that the Prime Minister's wish was to win a general election in his own right to give him a stronger mandate in resolving differences between reformist and conservative wings of his National Party (NP) over issues involving constitutional change and other reformist measures. Main oppositions to the ruling NP were the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), the New Republic Party (NRP) and Herstigte Nasionale Party(HNP).

The number of registered electors for 1981 election was 2 290 942, the number of voters was 1 389 893, the number of blank or void ballot papers was 24 926, and the number of valid votes was 1 364 967. The National Party (NP) obtained 777 558 votes, Progressive Federal Party (PFP) obtained 265 297 votes, New Republic Party (NRP) obtained 106 764 votes, and the Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP) obtained 192 304 of votes.  

In 1981, the National Party (NP) led by P W Botha won the majority of seats, 131 seats in the 165-seat House of Assembly.  The Progressive Federal Party (PFP) led by Frederik Van Zyl won 26 seats, and the New Republic Party of Vause Raw won 8 seats in the 165-seat House Assembly.

The Conservative Party (CP) was formed in 1982 as a result of a breakaway from the National Party. The CP was led by a former Dutch Reformed Minister, Andries Treurnicht.  

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• Tirykian, E.A. (1960). Apartheid and politics in South Africa. The Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, No 4, pp.682-697.
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Last updated : 15-Apr-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-Feb-2014