As last year’s elections fade into memory, and next year’s local elections begin to find some traction, our attention needs to focus on possible new political factors, including minority municipal governments, hung councils, coalitions and associated deal-making. The question is: who is ready for this new world?
Election 2014 was the worst ANC performance to date. Nationally, ANC support dropped to 62.15%, slightly lower than in the 1994 election (when it won 62.65%). In 2009, an injection of 900 000 KwaZulu-Natal votes saved ANC blushes, even as it lost votes in all other provinces. Last year, its vote share dropped nationally and provincially, and in key metropolitan municipalities such as Tshwane (49.5%) and Nelson Mandela Bay (48.8%), provincial ballots cast for the ANC dropped below 50%; in Johannesburg (52%) and Ekurhuleni (55%), the party fared only slightly better.
In Gauteng, the DA took one in three votes, and the EFF one in 10. In all local elections to date, the opposition has turned out more voters, and the ANC fewer.
How the EFF will fight a local election remains unknown. Will it have the same or a greater attraction to voters after two years of sitting in Parliament, where its initial glow has begun to fade? Will the United Front enter the fray, and further splinter anti-ANC votes? These remain unknowns, though fascinating.
But in last year’s election, many smaller parties either remained constant or grew their vote share. The Congress of the People imploded, as did the Pan Africanist Congress and the Azanian People’s Organisation (as electoral players, anyway), but the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), National Freedom Party and United Democratic Movement (UDM) all performed better than pollsters had predicted.
Small beer, some may say, looking at the 1.2% of the FF+, or 0.44% of the UDM, or 0.71% of the IFP. But this is missing two key points. First, those minority parties may be king-makers if, say, the ANC cannot get more than 50% of the vote. This occurred before, when the Minority Front joined a coalition so the ANC could govern Durban while the IFP ran the province in the early 1990s.
In Gauteng next year, one or more of these tiny parties may be the difference between a majority or minority ruling party, and thus the difference between staying in power or being forced back to the electorate. Second, flowing from this, is the obvious question: coalition, at what price?
Writing last week, Gareth van Onselen noted that “voters have a right to know what potential coalitions they are voting for” — but this generously assumes that some or any of the parties involved have turned their mind to the issue. Moreover, it presumes that coalitions are possible. The scenarios are endless, but can the reader envisage the DA and EFF cobbling a coalition together, which would then need 10% more (using last year’s provincial ballots as a proxy) to get into power? That would require a coalition of every party except the ANC.
Will the ANC and EFF get into bed — and at what cost to either party, in terms of their principles and of the attitude of their voters? Or, would the ANC turn to the IFP, once its mortal foe; or the FF+, scarcely a part of the national democratic revolution; or the UDM, led by one of the ANC’s staunchest critics (and ousted former member)? And so the scenarios continue to play out.
That coalition politics will intrude in our politics seems unavoidable. That it may well be a very good thing for citizens can be contemplated. Whether politicians and their parties (and their supporters) are ready for it, and are willing to accept the conditionalities required by coalitions, is an entirely different question. The ANC may well win every municipality in Gauteng and render the point moot, but electoral trends suggest it will not remain so for very long.
Everatt is the executive director of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory
This article originally appeared in Business Day