Sunday, August 07, 2016

South Africa’s Political Parties Forced Into Coalition Talks
Krista Mahr in Johannesburg
Financial Times

South Africa’s political parties are discussing coalition options for several major cities, thrusting Africa’s most industrialised nation into uncharted territory after the ruling African National Congress suffered its worst electoral performance.

The party once led by Nelson Mandela lost its primacy as South Africans’ party of choice at local elections last week, with opposition parties making gains after voters registered their grievances over high unemployment, shoddy governance and a scandal-prone president.

“In the last few years, the mood has been so grim,” said William Gumede, executive chairperson of Democracy Works.

The ANC, which has dominated South Africa’s political landscape for 22 years, had become a monolith, and no one thought that could change, he said. “There is a sense of a new beginning. It’s almost a renewal of the democracy.”

Though the ANC remains in control of most municipalities, the party’s overall support dropped to 54 per cent — the first time its share of the vote has dropped below 60 per cent since it took power at the country’s first democratic election in 1994.

The party also lost its controlling majority in Johannesburg, the country’s economic hub, and came second to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in Pretoria, the capital, and Port Elizabeth, an industrial city in the traditional ANC heartland of the Eastern Cape.

With no party taking an outright majority in those municipalities, they will now be governed by coalitions, a practice that has little precedent in South Africa.

The ANC, DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical party that came third in the overall vote, as well as smaller parties, have begun the tricky negotiations of forming alliances, South African media reported.

“They are all talking to each other,” said Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution. “It is an uncertain time because there are no rules of the game.”

The ANC has accepted its losses, citing low voter turnout in its bases, and framed the results as a net positive for the nation.

Prior to the elections, the only major urban centre not under the ANC’s control was Cape Town.

“These elections were hotly contested, with competing parties passionately arguing their points of view in attempts to win the favour of the electorate,” President Jacob Zuma, who has been dogged by scandals, said on Saturday. “You have shown the world that South Africa is a thriving democracy where differences of political opinion and diverse political preferences are allowed to flourish.”

The shake-up has sparked mixed reactions from investors. The rand made gains against the US dollar as election results trickled in, and ratings firm Moody’s said the more competitive political landscape could boost growth-oriented policies in the run-up to the national polls in 2019, a potential boon to an economy on the edge of recession.

Fitch Ratings, however, cautioned that the drop in support for the ANC could lead to distracting infighting, and that the ruling party might turn to expensive populist policies as it seeks to address voter dissatisfaction, potentially undermining growth.

It is equally uncertain how the new era of coalition politics will play out for South Africans.

The ideological differences between the ANC, DA and EFF could make for unstable alliances. To optimists, however, a sense of joint responsibility could usher in greater transparency and accountability, particularly as the DA and EFF hustle to build support ahead of the general election.

The ruling party’s once strong support is weakening

“They now have to confront the practical reality,” said Mr Gumede. “This is the springboard. They are in government now. They have to do better than the ANC.”

In the ruling party, which still has a national government to run, “introspection” has been the buzz word of the last few days, as party leaders say they will now turn to the onerous task of figuring out what went wrong.

If the party concludes that low turnout in their strongholds was a rebuke of Mr Zuma, the president’s critics may be emboldened to push for him to stand down.

This spring, the party leadership backed Mr Zuma after the nation’s highest court ruled he failed to uphold the constitution by not repaying taxpayer money spent on upgrades to his private estate, sparking widespread calls for his resignation.

“The ANC is going to claim collective responsibility for this result, which will be their way of avoiding confronting the leadership crisis at the top,” said Aubrey Matshiqi, a research fellow at Helen Suzman Foundation. “The question is how long they will be able to avoid it.”

No comments: