Independents ring in a new era in politics

2011-04-09 16:11

There has been a marked ­increase in the number of independent candidates wanting to contest this May’s local government elections – and the biggest ­increase is in Limpopo.

The number of hopeful non-party candidates in the province is up by a staggering 180%, compared to a national increase of 35%. Countrywide there are 10 055 candidates contesting next month’s election, up from 9 267 in 2006.

According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) database, at close of business on Friday 842 independent candidates (almost 10% of the total number of candidates) had ­registered their intention to contest the May 18 poll, a third more than the 629 independents who ran five years ago.

In the 2000 local government election that figure stood at 672.

The figure of 842 is likely to decrease by Tuesday, when the IEC completes its compliance audit, but the final figure is still expected to buck existing trends.

“Even at this provisional stage it’s already way up on previous years,” says Mosotho Moepya, the IEC’s deputy chief electoral officer, who is responsible for electoral operations.

This is Moepya’s 10th year in the job and it will the third local government election that he oversees. While he describes the increase in independent candidates as “remarkable”, he declines to attribute a reason for it.

The IEC’s chief executive, Pansy Tlakula, suggests the rise “reflects a healthy democracy where people feel they can compete with existing parties and campaign around issues that are of concern to them”.

Asked if the rise could also be ­taken as a reflection of growing disenchantment with existing party politics she replied: “It is not for me to speculate.”

It is not clear how many of the hopeful candidates are former insiders of the main political groupings or genuine political outsiders fighting on their own turf. This will only become clear when the final list is released on Tuesday.

“But from what we can see, most of these independent candidates are coming from the ANC. We don’t see the same happening in the DA,” says political scientist Prince Mashile.

“These figures represent an ANC in crisis.”

The provincial spread of the non-aligned candidate list suggests that this may well be so.

Limpopo reflects the greatest spike in numbers and a whopping 180% surge on 2006.

In 2000 the province had 76 independent candidates, a ­figure that dropped back to 67 six years later but which today has nearly tripled to 182, should all the applicants pass the final audit.

The Eastern Cape is also recording a sharp rise this year. In 2000 the province had 134 non-party candidates, a figure that dropped to 125 in 2006 but which today is provisionally at 182, reflecting a 50% rise.

Traditionally ANC strongholds, both provinces are bogged down with allegations of corruption and poor governance, and are still plagued by the ­infighting from the Thabo Mbeki-Jacob Zuma divide of four years ago.

The Eastern Cape has also been embroiled in protracted battles over the ANC’s list of preferred party candidates for the May vote.

“So people become dissatisfied and they choose to stand alone,” says Mashile.

“And in doing that, they are telling us that they no longer feel that the big political parties are the appropriate vehicles for their own political expression.”

As of Friday afternoon ­approximately 120 of the 842 independent hopefuls still had not met one or several of the ­requirements needed to qualify to stand for the elections.

The final candidates’ figure is scheduled to be released on Tuesday.

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