Counting down

2009-04-13 00:00

In just over a week, the country’s voters will go to the polls to elect both the national and their provincial governments. They will also effectively be choosing their next president. For many months past, in fact, the political life of the nation and the consideration of the bread-and-butter implications of each party’s election platform have been overshadowed by all that has ensued from the choice of Jacob Zuma as party president of the African National Congress in its alliance with the SA Communist Party and Cosatu.

With the corruption charges against Zuma now set aside, barely nine days remain to focus on the merits and deficiencies of each party’s manifesto and to assess the substance behind the rhetoric. It is one of the debatable features of the proportional franchise system that it tends to produce a proliferation of small parties, each hoping to secure a sufficient percentage of the vote to send a member to parliament. The most obviously notable feature of this month’s election is the emergence of a new party with serious pretensions to becoming a major player. Cope — the Congress of the People — has its origins in the post-Polokwane divisions within the ANC and many people feel that the present leadership of the ANC has lost touch with its original principles, but whether Cope will draw off significant numbers of former ANC supporters remains to be seen.

As the parties compete, political intolerance is still a concern and occasional outbursts of flagrantly inflammatory talk point to a perpetual need for vigilance. Thus far, thankfully, incidents have been only sporadic and limited, while there have been debates in the media that suggest the more rational consideration of issues that characterises a maturing democracy. In the years since 1994, the parties that have held power have provided enough of a track record for voters to assess the credibility of their latest promises, but this democracy is still new. In going to the polls, voters should consider not only what each party offers to them, but what it offers for the future of democratic governance in this country.

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