South Africa’s emerging coalition paradigm


THIS year marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election. The upcoming  general election to be held on a date still to be announced during the April–July 2014 period could signal a see-change in politics.

The ruling ANC party has faced an enormous amount of criticism and pressure from the electorate under the Zuma administration. The last election was held on 22 April 2009. Currently the ANC has 264 seats with the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance holding 67. Since South Africa’s proportional representation system favours small parties, runner-up  Congress of the People (COPE) 30 and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) 18 also play an important role.

Here are three scenarios that could play out in the ensuing months.

1. ANC retains power with a decreased majority

If the Tlokwe bi-election is anything to go by, the ANC could see its majority in parliament reduced to 53%. The ruling party barely squeezed past the post to win the ward in 2013 with a reduced majority down from 90% in 2011. In this scenario, a weakened ruling party will continue to govern but face enormous pressure in the House of Assembly when it comes to passing legislation. It will thus still need support of smaller opposition parties in order to govern.  The only caveat on this scenario is the potential post-Mandela gain from the party’s association with Madiba. With Long Walk to Freedom a box office hit in South Africa, the ANC may yet confound its critics. The post-Independence Congress Party of India managed to stay in power for 25 years.  With a Gandhi-like father figure in Mandela, the ANC is likely to do the same.

2. ANC enters a centre-left coalition

Newcomer on the block Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) look set to benefit from the ANC purge of the ultra-leftist Julius Malema from his controversial leadership of the ANCYL. The shrude and politically astute politician has run a bruising Post-Marikana campaign that could see the EFF garner a massive bounty of seats currently occupied by ANC leftist stalwarts. Conservative estimates are that the party will fair as well, if not better than the previous newcomer, COPE. However in the labour unrest climate of today, anything could happen. A protest vote by workers against a range of ANC scandals including Nkandla, Guptagate and a groundswell reaction by voters against the excesses of the Zuma administration could leave the EFF in a position to be the deal-brokers in a centre-left coalition that results in the ANC sharing power with other left-leaning parties. One of the obvious concerns from an economic stand-point is how such a coalition will resolve differences in economic policy. The EFF currently favours bringing an end to market capitalism and the creation of a command economy under a centralised state.

3. ANC enters a social democratic coalition. 

If the EFF are not the joker in the pack, then this emerging social democratic coalition could really upset the ruling party at election time. Newly formed Agang  which means “build” in Sesotho, promise renewal and a return to the homespun values of black consciousness leader Steve Biko and with Mamphela Ramphele at the helm of a political formation that may result in a women president, if not in this election, at least by the next general election in 2019, South Africa could see 50% of the electorate placing their crosses next to their choice in gender. In fact a female president could be within reach in 2014, and she may well be a surprise candidate. With the Democratic Alliance triumvirate of Helen Zille, Patricia de Lille and Lindiwe Mazibuko threatening to overturn the current emphasis on masculinity under Jacob Zuma, (the president has a millstone around his neck in the form of fallout from a failed rape-trial)  the upset result could mean the DA and Agang carry the seats needed to form a social democratic coalition with smaller parties such as COPE and IFP. A social democratic coalition that retains elements of the market economy while offering welfare benefits to citizens may well gobble up what remains of the ANC centre when floor-crossing and jobs are on the line.

Whichever of the above scenarios play out, it is important to note that South Africa’s fledgling democracy has withstood many tests of its political will. Backed by a Constitution and Bill of Rights, the country is one of the few nations with a “We the People” Constitution. The post-Nelson Mandela era has ushered in the possibility that the rapidly developing country could join the ranks of the developed world in less than a decade. With growth on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange averaging 18% pa, South Africa’s thriving market economy may yet save the nation from the fate of its neighbours.

2009 results by PMG

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One comment

  1. Pingback: The right-wing coalition that has South African women worried | Medialternatives

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