New coalition seen shaking up SA politics
IN the latest development ahead of next year’s general elections, five opposition parties announced this week a coalition to contest the polls expected in the first half of 2014. Known as the Collective for Democracy, the grouping brings together the African Christian Democratic Party, Congress of the People (Cope), the Freedom Front Plus and the United Christian Democratic Party. In an interview with Free State Times (FST) senior reporter Martin Makoni this week, North West University social transformation researcher and political analyst Andre Duvenhage (AD) analyses the new formation and its chances at the ballot box. Duvenhage also gave his views on the widening divisions within the ANC-led ruling alliance and how these may affect the former liberation movement’s performance at the polls next year. Excerpts:
FST: What do you make of the latest coalition move by five of the country’s smaller political parties ahead of next year’s general elections?
AD: I think coalition politics is becoming a significant and critical element in South African politics. The smaller parties are trying to find a way of snatching a significant portion of the votes in the forthcoming general elections. But this does not mean they will grab the votes from the ruling party. They will have to work closely in order to form a formidable force and gain the confidence of the people. Already, I hear there are problems with the IFP – they are not happy with some things in the set-up of the grouping. But there are also expectations that the other small political parties such as the Pan-Africanist Congress, Azanian People’s Organisation and others could join the coalition. From my assessment, the ANC could find itself getting about 60 percent of the vote in the elections, the DA could get about 20 percent and these smaller parties 10-15 percent of the vote. The Economic Freedom Fighters and Agang SA are also expected to get significant votes. So coalition forces will certainly become a common feature in South African politics.
FST: These parties have remained small for the simple reason that they were unable to win the confidence of voters and one wonders how their coming together in a coalition should necessarily make them more attractive to the electorate. Why should voters take them more seriously now?
AD: It’s not really about people taking them seriously. These small parties are coming together in order to increase support. They obviously want to take a bit of the votes from the ANC. The smaller parties are bringing together their support base in order to make it stronger even though they will not contest under the new umbrella party. However, some of the parties like Cope could actually lose its share of the votes from the seven percent it got in the last elections to about two percent in next year’s elections. (But the) assumption is that by working together, the smaller parties stand a greater chance to draw more support from the people. If they are able to coordinate themselves well, they can become a very efficient political force. The efficiency factor is very important in politics. I also think that their point of departure is to bring together their support base and ensure that more people join them.
FST: Should the ANC be worried because of this new opposition coalition?
AD: The ANC should be very worried of course because these parties are coming together in order to take votes from them. According to some recent surveys, some ANC supporters are not really happy with the party due a to a variety of reasons including corruption and service delivery-related issues. This could mean the party is losing some of its supporters. The ANC has to work really hard to mobilise the masses to vote for it. The new parties are obviously going to cause a major shift to the right. The disturbances in the labour movement which is part of the tripartite will certainly affect the ANC support base. It may actually turn out to be very difficult for the ANC to significantly mobilise support like it has always done in the past.
FST: Is coalition politics the way to tackle ANC dominance?
AD: Sure. We would rather have few but stronger and stable political parties than a huge number of political parties that are not effective. It is actually good for politics because it gives direction and those parties concerned will be more focused because they will be expected to deliver.
FST: But only four out of the more than 100 opposition political parties in South Africa have agreed to join this new Cope-led union which seems to suggest that the idea of coalition politics is yet to be fully embraced in this country?
AD: South Africa is a very diverse community and we have a lot of different groupings. It will be impossible to have all of them in one place. There is nothing wrong with some political parties coming together in order to consolidate their support. It is however better to work as a united force because there is diversity of ideas and it promotes more focused politics.
FST: This comes at a time the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) is threatening to sever ties with labour federation Cosatu and, in effect, the ANC-led tripartite ruling alliance. What could this mean for South African politics?
AD: I think if the suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is not going to be accommodated in the organisation (Cosatu), there will be more divisions in South African politics. Look, it was never going to be possible for labour and government to work together in a coalition like we have here. There was always going to be a fall-out and this could be the beginning of it. We are likely to see more divisions in South African politics and this could seriously weaken some organisations.
FST: How do you assess the prospects of a Numsa-led opposition political party were the union going to totally break away from the Cosatu/SACP/ANC alliance to form its own party?
AD: There is potential for some significant change to the country’s political landscape (should Numsa mutate into or form political party). I should however highlight that it is not that easy to form a political party. Political parties cannot be formed and be successful in a short space of time. They take a long time to build and Cope was just an exception in that it was formed with just a few months to the elections and it managed to get significant votes. Politics is quite complicated. It takes time to put systems in place and getting people to understand your agenda.
FST: And the ANC, how do you see the ruling party faring at the ballot box this time round?
AD: My assessment is that in the worst case scenario, the ANC will get 57-58 percent of the votes and in the best case scenario, 62-63 percent. There is no doubt the ANC will get the majority in parliament but they will not get two-thirds majority. The new and the smaller parties will certainly take a significant amount of votes from the ANC. But we should however not forget that the ANC is a late sparker (slow starter). It can just pull a huge surprise just before the elections, say with three weeks to go, and get the votes.