#LGE2016: The people have spoken

2016-08-05 14:05
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Lawson Naidoo

One of the most striking aspects of the IEC’s Results Operations Centre (ROC) in Tshwane is the fact that all the parties present here have been allocated desks of equal size, in an open area.

This is a visible representation of elections being a great leveller. The IEC is in charge here, mandated by the Constitution to manage elections and ensure that they are free and fair.

This equality of treatment is complemented by a healthy dose of transparency. The IEC officials crunching the numbers as they come in from around the country sit at computer terminals in full view of the media.

The rooms set aside for the Party Liaison Committees (PLC) and the IEC’s legal team which deals with complaints are glass fronted so the level of activity can be observed even if what is discussed is private. Both rooms have seen sporadic activity with greater levels of stress visible from the PLC room. The legal team goes about its tasks with a routine efficiency.

One can therefore easily observe the reactions of parties even if comments are cagey. Of the erstwhile liberation movements the ANC appears to be in a state of shock, the PAC philosophically accepts its fate and Azapo is not even here. The buoyancy and smiling faces emanates from the clusters gathered around the tables of the main opposition parties.

It is now clear that the ANC has lost significant support in these elections – at the time of writing it is trailing in Cape Town, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, and is ahead in Johannesburg, eThekwini, Mangaung, Buffalo City and Ekurhuleni. It has also suffered losses across the country whilst holding onto power in many council chambers.

Its share of the vote however has declined significantly from 63% in the last LGE in 2011 to approximately 54% now. The DA has grown from 24% to 26.5% whilst the EFF, contesting local elections for the first time are weighing in at 7.5%. A surprise showing has come from a resurgent IFP, benefiting from the absence of the NFP with 4.5%of the votes counted to date. The NFP had previously split from the IFP.

Whilst this is a local election fought partly on a constituency or ward basis as opposed to a full proportional representation list system in national and provincial elections it may provide an indicator of future national trends.

The share of the vote in 2011 local elections was very closely replicated in the 2014 national elections with the ANC getting 62% and the DA 22%. This may be a portent of the 2019 elections, a worrying state of affairs for the ANC in particular but also for the DA. It has again failed to reach the 30% ceiling.

It is not unusual for a governing party to get a message from voters in what is a mid-term plebiscite. But a drop of 8% or 9% demonstrates the wrath of the electorate and not just a gentle message.

Voter turnout has been a major factor in these elections. In wards where the DA is traditionally strong, mainly suburban areas in the metros, the voter turnout was very high, reaching 68% in some areas, securing the DA a strong showing.

In traditional ANC strongholds in the townships, voter turnout was down to under 50%  in places, and even there the EFF and the DA made inroads into the ANC voting base. In a Protea ward in Soweto the EFF came away with 25% of the vote. The DA went up as well in the townships albeit from a low base.

A keenly contested election was what was anticipated and appears to be what we have delivered. In as much as the election campaign was about political parties and leaders, pollsters, analysts and commentators, elections are about citizens and our votes. South Africans have emphasised the vibrant nature of our democracy, that we are ready for higher levels of political contestation, and willing to embrace change.

But much more importantly the electorate is saying very loudly that it deserves better governance, respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. It will no longer uncritically lend its support to parties that only pay lip service to its needs and our social contract.

Despite all the efforts of civil society groups, some constitutional institutions of governance and the courts, the most effective mechanism of holding elected representatives to account is via the ballot box. In these elections the people have spoken – now the political parties must listen and act.

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Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  local elections 2016

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