Of coalitions and electoral numbers

2018-09-16 10:29
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Nothing has demonstrated a turning point in South African politics more than the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and DA's non-coalition alliance in three metros following the 2016 local government elections.

Although no formal coalition agreement exists between the two, the imperative is to persuade each other or, at the very least, agree on a governance programme that to vote together in council is a necessity. Coalition governments require the parties involved to have a basic understanding of their constituencies’ electoral or social concerns, an agreed on responsive plan on how to address these concerns and, most important, make concessions and compromises to achieve them.

This isn’t the case between the DA and EFF. Consequently, the EFF engages and disengages its support depending on the issue at hand and/or whether it was able to get a concession from the DA.

Coalitions are not easy to come by and are generally a hard sell to the respective party’s divergent constituencies, especially when there are no policy commonalities. The EFF and the DA cooperation is unprecedented, with the parties standing on pole opposites on core policy positions that include land, transformation and nationalisation.

Governing the three metros has given the DA a clear head start for positioning itself as the alternative to the ANC government, given next year’s coming general elections.

The events of recent weeks are, however, a real threat to the DA’s electoral message of “we govern better”.

In Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane the EFF used a hardline approach quite skilfully, impressing on the DA to appreciate the fact that it is governing the metros on backroom negotiations and not the will of the people. There are certainly lessons for the new leadership of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro to reflect on. In Johannesburg, on the other hand, a soft approach seems to be working. Developments signal a show of leverage favourable to the EFF in this uneasy “political romance”.

The collapsed vote of no confidence against Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga comes across as more of a win for the EFF than the DA.

The EFF might have failed to see its vote of no confidence through, but it evidently got what it wanted. The EFF’s stated wishes for insourcing of contract workers in the city has held sway. This had previously been deemed unfavourable by the DA because of budgetary constraints. Insourcing of workers is a big electoral issue for the EFF. Its support base will appreciate this more than the removal of the mayoral chain from around the neck of Tshwane head honcho Msimanga.

In its second national election campaign the EFF can demonstrate more than just intent and could change the lives of many South Africans who find themselves politically and economically marginalised. This it will do by pointing to its victories in the National Assembly, which include #PayBackTheMoney and its motion on the amendment of section 25 of the Constitution. At local government it will point to the concessions it has pushed the DA to make with respect to insourcing.

As the only two parties running a government, the DA and ANC are now judged on more than just their word, but on their performance at both local and national levels.

With the DA desperate to govern at all costs, it needs to make peace with the fact that a lot more concessions will be made. The reality it will have to live with is that the EFF is governing by proxy.

Although it claims it is not governing with the DA because a formal coalition does not exist, it is happy using the DA to implement its manifesto and to demand consultation on key governance issues, while accepting zero accountability albeit sharing the spoils.

The 2016 election results showed a number of interesting facts about the South African electorate, including its appreciation of a maturing democracy. Public expression of protest and people’s dissatisfaction with their material conditions resulted in changes in voting behaviour.

People in urban areas who were unhappy about their social conditions voted differently. The DA, EFF and other minority parties in coalitions across the country will be held to the same standards, with regards to service delivery, as the ANC.

All opposition parties should ask themselves what they are gaining for their constituency in the coalition agreements or alliances and whether these will increase their electoral support. Ultimately, the party that wins the elections will have to convince a significant number of voters that it has a better understanding of its immediate and long-term social, economic and political issues and is best placed to address these.

- Mtwesi is an entrepreneur and strategist

Read more on:    da  |  eff  |  politics

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