Clem Sunter

Thinking the unthinkable: The EFF wins 20% of the vote in the 2014 election

2013-12-02 14:05

Clem Sunter

Herman Kahn wrote a bestseller in 1962 entitled On Thermonuclear War. The subtitle was Thinking About the Unthinkable. He was the inventor of scenario planning and basically said that if you want to explore the edges of the future, you should not forecast what is going to happen. Rather you should entertain a few extreme possibilities and write them up as stories of what might happen; then explore the consequences.

In his book, Herman sketched a flat-out nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union and showed convincingly that if the Russians pushed the button first, America could not respond. Thus was born the second-strike capability that the US now possesses even though the scenario never materialised (it came close in 1962).

Our own Arab Spring

So what is my wild-card scenario - the one that keeps me up at night? It is that the EFF wins 20% or more of the vote at the general election next year. That will put the cat among the pigeons and shake the Establishment. Actually, it is getting less wild by the day for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the possibility of a protest vote is growing with the revelations of Nkandla and other signs of luxurious living of those in power - all at taxpayers' expense. I know that Julius has problems of his own in this area and faces legal action. But somehow his alleged transgressions have gone on the back burner compared to the stuff that is being revealed now.

Yet you might protest that much of the electorate get welfare grants instead of paying tax. Moreover, they do not have the same access to the media as the chattering class. On the other hand, people want jobs and you may be underestimating the reach of the radio and word of mouth, especially when the news is sensationally bad. The other point often made is that nothing deflects people's voting habits and party loyalty. At worst, they just won't vote. Yet many democracies indicate there are tipping points when a massive shift in the vote takes place. Maybe, this will be our version of an Arab Spring in that young people with no prospects of employment will express their disappointment through their vote rather than marching into Sandton Square. As Jay Naidoo, with whom I shared a panel discussion at GIBS the other night, said: "Having angry young people joining the democratic process today to voice their opposition is just as important as getting the ultra-conservatives to vote in the 1994 election." In other words, it strengthens democracy and avoids a revolution on the streets.

The union member vote

One has to wonder for whom all those workers, who have left Cosatu-affiliated unions with links to the ruling party for brand new ones outside the traditional spheres of influence, are going to vote. Again, some of my friends with more political experience than me feel that switching union loyalties does not necessarily signify that the person concerned is going to shift his or her party allegiance. I am not so sure because the Marikana tragedy was a defining moment and there are many who want to hold the government to account for the way things went so badly wrong.

A small flag in Randburg

As a fox, you always look out for flags that indicate a particular scenario is moving from the category of rank outsider to being a genuine runner. This is a small flag that came from someone I met at one of my presentations. He said that a friend of his who is fairly conservative had time on his hands in Randburg the other day. He happened to be in the vicinity of the taxi rank and he decided to conduct a straw poll among the drivers and passengers milling around as to whom they were going to vote for in the next election. He was surprised that every single one of the people he asked said the EFF. No exception!

Obviously, you can doubt the veracity of the poll and they might have been trying to scare him. But it makes you think, doesn't it? All in all, I think next year's election could be a watershed one. I hope the DA or Agang SA pick up some of the disaffected swing vote, but I fear that a lot of it - and much more than we anticipate - will go to the EFF. The flip side of the coin is that the ANC may have to go into coalition with the DA to govern the country.

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