Jan Gerber

The Sixth Parliament is about to commence. Buckle up

2019-05-17 06:00
Photo: Jaco Marais

Photo: Jaco Marais

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Things will get interesting among the opposition parties in the Sixth Parliament. If there was one thing Zuma succeeded in, it was unifying the opposition (and you thought he was a divisive figure!), writes Jan Gerber.

With the ballots cast, the votes counted, and the seats calculated, everything is set for the Sixth Parliament to start its term.

While the Fifth Parliament for the most part was little more than an extension for Luthuli House, the question arises whether the ANC's drop in support would mean that it would be forced to change tack. My prediciton is: the loss of 14 seats probably won't force the ANC to take a different approach. While from late 2016 in some committees the ANC would look towards building a consensus, as soon as it became clear that opposition MPs didn't plan on kowtowing to whatever was decided at Luthuli House, the use of majoritarian power kicked in.

The ANC still has the numbers to dominate committee meetings and voting in the house. A change in the strong-arm tactics might come from the ANC leadership, in the name of all things new dawn and Thuma Mina. After his election as president last year, Cyril Ramaphosa made overtures to the opposition for a more unified approach, and for a fleeting moment, it seemed that Parliament might just be a better functioning "People's Parliament". That didn't last too long.

But, with a changing of the guard in the presiding officers and ANC whippery on the cards, it is a fool's game to try and predict the approach. We will know soon enough.

The ANC caucus might well be one of the battlegrounds in the ANC's factional war. While much has been made of the inclusion of some Zupta-types in the ANC list to Parliament – wrangled by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule – it is not to say that the caucus will be hostile to Ramaphosa. Yes, there are some people who will happily dance on his political grave, but there are also staunch Ramaphosa supporters. For the most part, the majority of the caucus will probably go with the faction they deem to be in the pound seats – to keep their salaries and get re-elected – which at the moment seems to be the Ramaphosa-camp. However, this will be an arena of Game of Thrones-like intrigue, and will have to be watched closely.  

DA redefining itself

Similarly, the DA's loss of five seats will do little to affect the way it operates in the daily grind of parliamentary work. They will still be able to have two members on every portfolio committee. This allows members to really dig into their portfolio and drive issues, while MPs from smaller opposition parties are often just running with the pack – with some notable exceptions – as their attention is divided by many different issues.

The DA has some other problems. One can't help but wonder if the absence of a certain Mr Jacob G. Zuma's face on the ANC's elections posters didn't cost them a few votes. Senior DA MPs would admit, even towards the end of last year, that they haven't quite figured out how to deal with Ramaphosa in Parliament. With Zuma it was easy, the speeches almost wrote themselves, but in the wake of Ramaphoria, a good ol' Zuma-bashing didn't quite have the effect it once had.

The DA is in the process of redefining itself, and it is also beset by an ideological rift. Their caucus will probably be the main site of this, and if they don't sort this out quickly, they will fail to make the required impact in the house. However, the DA's strongest contribution in the Fifth Parliament was rigorous oversight against the tide of looting that swept over the state, and this does not require ideological coherence. Whether viewed from a neo-liberal or social-democratic perspective – stealing is still stealing.

EFF's parliamentary work ramped up

The EFF's gain of 19 members will give the rowdy red ones an opportunity to seriously ramp up their parliamentary work. They can now have at least one member in every committee, which will allow them much more impetus to drive their agenda.  

Also, 44 kicking and screaming MPs will be much harder to throw out of the chamber than 25…

When considering their antics in the house, the EFF is faced with somewhat of a dilemma. While the #PayBackTheMoney-incident certainly had an effect, by the end of the term their belligerence in the house lost its impact and seemed rather ho-hum. At the start of the term it was: "Holy shit! Did you see what the EFF did!" By the end of the term it was: "Oh, so the EFF got kicked out, what else is new?"

Parliament found a way to grind on, no matter how many spanners the EFF threw in the works. But disruption is very much part of the EFF's brand, and it seems a safe bet that garnered them votes. So, I'll be surprised if they go the constructive route.

Things will also get interesting among the opposition parties. If there was one thing Zuma succeeded in, it was unifying the opposition (and you thought he was a divisive figure!). Towards the end of last year, it was clear relations between the DA and EFF broke down. The DA and FF Plus also campaigned against each other, and the ACDP was not impressed by the DA's repeated claims that a vote for a smaller party is a wasted vote. And in comes GOOD's Aunty Pat, who certainly has an axe to grind with the DA, or the "bunch of blue liars" as she calls them.

The ANC will exploit this to their advantage.

With more representation for parties who coalesce around parochial things like race (EFF), ethnicity (FF Plus, IFP) and religion (ACDP, ATM, Al Jamah-ah) – the tenor of debates in Parliament might well reflect this. Don't be surprised if there is talk coming from some of these quarters about amending the Constitution to bring back the death penalty.

It also means the DA and ANC are unlikely bedfellows in the centre. Well, part of the ANC, at least. How this will play out in Parliament, is anyone's guess.

The first real test of this Parliament's mettle will be the amendment to Section 25 of the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation. Between them the ANC and EFF have the numbers to amend the Constitution. However, this is not a done deal. Towards the end of last year, the EFF made it clear that it wants the amendment to provide for the nationalisation of all land, while the ANC said: "Hell, no." (OK, not in those exact words).

Without the EFF, the ANC won't have the numbers to amend the Constitution. So we will probably have a game of constitutional chicken on our hands. Who will blink first?

The ANC's factional battle will also feed into this.

Anyway, buckle up, cupcakes. The rollercoaster is about to take off.

- Jan Gerber is a parliamentary reporter for News24. He's suffered through the whole Fifth Parliament. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24

Read more on:    cyril rama­phosa  |  national assembly  |  parliament
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