Africa Notes: Observations on the South African Elections - June 1987
June 4, 1987
Of the 3 million white South Africans eligible to vote in the May 6, 1987 election, 67.97 percent cast ballots. At stake were 166 directly elected seats in the (white) House of Assembly of the country's tricameral parliament, plus 12 additional members nominated or indirectly elected in proportion to the parties' electoral strength. The National Party (which has held power since 1948) received 52.45 percent of the total votes cast and 133 seats (a gain of 6 seats), the Conservative Party 26.37 percent and 23 seats (a gain of 5), and the Herstigte Nasionale Party 3.14 percent (but lost its one parliamentary seat). Thus, the status quo and ultra-rightist parties took about 82 percent of the vote.
As for the parties to the "left" of the NP, the Progressive Federal Party received 14.1 percent of the vote and 20 seats (a loss of 7 seats), the New Republic Party received 1.9 percent and 1 seat (a loss of 4), and three independents received 1.3 percent and 1 seat. In sum, South Africa's National Party has been voted in by roughly five percent of the country's total population.
During the past few years, the white electorate has shifted in two contradictory ways: it moved to the left on apartheid issues but to the right on security. These shifts are not unrelated. The crumbling of certainty about traditional apartheid was a factor in bringing law and order issues to the fore. By cultivating (and also manufacturing) anxieties, the authorities lured doubting voters into their camp. By associating the PFP with the African National Congress, terrorism, and anarchy, the NP presented itself as the reliable guarantor of a basic human need.