This was the first election since Labor narrowly lost as opposition in the 1997 election, doing much better than most analysts predicted, after their comprehensive loss in the 1993 election where the ALP were reduced to just 10 seats. Coming into the 2002 election, the Liberal Government had faced a number of scandals including the Motorola affair, over which Premier John Olsen was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Rob Kerin, who had only six months to govern before the election was called.
Labor won two seats from the Liberals, the districts of Adelaide (Jane Lomax-Smith) and Colton (Paul Caica). This gave Labor 23 seats, Liberals 20 seats, SA Nationals one seat, and three seats to Independents. In order to form majority government, a party needed 24 seats out of 47. Most analysts expected Kerin to form a minority government with the support of all the independents.
On 13 February, Liberal-turned-independent Peter Lewis announced that he had signed an agreement with Labor leader Mike Rann to support a Labor Government in exchange for holding a constitutional convention, making him speaker of the House of Assembly, and concessions for his electorate including the phasing out of commercial fishing in the River Murray, prioritising the eradication of the branched broomrape weed, changing water rates for irrigation, fast-tracking a feasibility study for a weir and lock at Wellington, and improving rural roads. This agreement effectively made Rann premier-elect. However, following parliamentary precedent established by Don Dunstan following the 1968 election, the Kerin Government refused to resign until after Rann and Labor demonstrated that they had majority support on the floor of the House of Assembly. Kerin argued that since the Liberals had won a bare majority of the two-party vote, they had a mandate to stay in office. The Liberal Government was defeated on the floor of the House of Assembly on 5 March 2002, with Rann becoming Premier on 6 March.