Flirting with a One-Party State
The importance of elections 2014
Flirting with a one-party state
During the famous elections of 1994, two opposition parties each won a stake in the government of South Africa. Both have since utterly lost that stake.
The Inkatha Freedom Party won control of Kwazulu province and a deputy presidency in 1994 with 10.5% of the vote. Since then their performance has declined in every election to less than 5% in 2009. Kwazulu is now very much controlled by the ruling ANC.
The National Party won control of the Western Cape province and a deputy presidency in 1994 with 20.4% of the vote. This party changed its name to New National Party (NNP) but was eventually disbanded, and the leaders of the NNP joined the ruling ANC. So much for effective opposition!
A repeated pattern of one-party dominance
In fact, the ruling ANC has steadily gained ground in every single election with one exception. In 2009 a faction of the ANC split off and created COPE. They grew in one election from 0 to 7.4% of the vote, becoming the third largest party in the country. However the majority of COPE Members of Parliament recently defected to the ANC: a pattern that has become all too familiar over the years in a country that has struggled to find any party which could properly contest democratic elections.
The only notable exception is the DA which, after being a fiery opposition party for decades under Apartheid, has grown from a humble 1.7% of the vote in 1994 to 16.7% in 2009. People from overseas democracies may be stunned to hear that, in fact, this 16.7% comprised the main opposition party in 2009. Many would not consider that to be a significant opposition but, in a country where all opposition has crumbled, that is all there is. With the help of other parties, notably the Independent Democrats, the DA has wrested control of the Western Cape province from the ANC to comprise the solitary tenuous exception to a one-party state for the moment.
Does South Africa have a Politburo?
All over the world the parliamentary representatives of political parties mostly vote according to party policy when decisions are made. In South Africa that is very much the case. In other words, those decisions are made before it is put to the vote in Parliament, especially if one party holds such a high percentage of the seats. However the people who make those decisions on the executive committee of the ruling party, are not necessarily the faces voters see when they put their crosses on the ballot.
Even when another party controls a province, that does not mean it controls much of the money. A province generates some income but most of its funds are received from national government. Furthermore the law, in terms of which provinces and municipalities generate their own income, is largely controlled by national government.
In other words, this close-knit committee of friends and colleagues within the ruling party, controls almost all public sector funds in South Africa. Government controls a very large portion of the Gross National Product in South Africa. In other words, control of most of the finances in the country rests in the hands of a smallish group of friends.
In some parts of the world that kind of all-powerful executive committee is called a Politburo. In a one-party state a committee of close colleagues and friends can control all the important decisions because there is no higher power than that party. The law in South Africa contains a safeguard against this in that there is one power higher than government: the Constitution. However, only until one party holds more than two thirds of the seats in Parliament – that would enable it to change the Constitution as needs be.
In other words, as all opposition crumbles, South Africa more and more closely resembles a one-party state. Is that really what voters want? Haven’t we been there before, where one obscure committee holds the power over life and death for all?
Deficient election campaigns in an all-important election
Maybe elections 2014 are therefore about more than just Nkandla. If that is so, then most political parties except one have sadly lost the plot. Only one party ignores Nkandla.
But finally there may be an even more important question to be answered during elections 2014: Given the growing total power of one committee, is South Africa really a democracy?
The author is a Chartered Accountant with a Master’s Degree in Government Finance
Ref: http://www.news24.com/Elections/results and The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996
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