On 22 April South Africans will go to the polls to elect their next parliament and provincial assemblies, interim president Kgalema Motlanthe has said. In a speech published on the website of the presidency of the Republic of South Africa on 10 February, the head of state said however that the elections would be officially proclaimed at a later date.

His hesitation may follow a recent high court ruling recognising the right of some two million South Africans living abroad to participate in the general elections. The judgement has been referred to the constitutional court for confirmation. Should it be implemented it could mean a delay in the polls to accommodate the necessary changes in the electoral law.

Campaigning for the elections is already well under way, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) having launched its manifesto in January. However the party that has been in power consistently since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1994 could face a strong challenge from the new kid on the block, Congress of the People (COPE), established by a dissident group within ANC following the ousting of former president Thabo Mbeki late last year.

Should South Africans living and working overseas be allowed to vote this could also have a significant impact on the elections, as expats are widely considered to favour opposition parties. Currently only certain categories of citizen are allowed to vote from overseas including government officials and members of their household and citizens who are temporarily absent from the country for the purposes of business, travel, study or an international sports event.