Melanie Verwoerd

ANC is pushing for early elections, but it's not as simple as that

2018-03-28 10:25
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his inaugural State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff, AFP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his inaugural State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff, AFP)

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Despite denials from ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, it seems that the ANC is still considering the possibility of an early election.

The current term of the National Assembly and provincial legislatures expires on May 7, 2019. In terms of section 49(2) of the Constitution, the president has to announce an election date which can be no later than 90 days after the 5 year term expires. So the elections can be held as late as beginning of August 2019.

So why the rush?

The reasons are (unsurprisingly) political and mostly to do with political battles inside the ANC. It is blatantly clear that many of those who previously supported President Jacob Zuma are still mobilising and trying to steer the ANC in a different direction than President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters. I will write more about this in future, but suffice it to say they are not gone and in the words of Magashule, "want to take the ANC back again". Of course, that would have to involve a strategy of weakening, and eventually getting rid of, Ramaphosa.

One of the ways to counter this faction and their strategies is for Ramaphosa to secure an overwhelming majority for the ANC at the next general election. A 65%+ victory would counter the small election margin that he received at Nasrec. With such a strong mandate from the electorate it would be more difficult for his opponents to mobilise against him.

Not only will it allow him more freedom to implement the transformational programmes he envisages but he can do it more quickly – both in government and the ANC. It will, for example, allow him to put his ideal Cabinet in place earlier.

At the time of the Cabinet reshuffle he made it clear that this was an interim Cabinet to lead the country to the elections and that more shuffles were to follow post-election. If the elections are earlier, he could bring his dream team on board sooner which would again speed up his reform programmes.

The ANC is aware that the opposition is in disarray at the moment and that their opinion polls are not looking good – to put it mildly. They are also aware that the positive sentiment around Ramaphosa is extremely high. However, as time goes on and the horror of the Zuma regime fades slightly from public memory, this might decrease. So those who support Ramaphosa are keen to capitalise on the "Ramaphoria" while it lasts.

Of course there are certain challenges that might prevent the ANC from having the elections earlier.

The first one is, simply, money. According to all accounts the ANC has been fairly cash strapped. Undoubtedly this would improve under Ramaphosa’s leadership. However, elections are expensive. It was reported that the ANC spent R1bn during the local government elections in 2016.

The new Party Political Funding Act will secure more money for most parties, but since there were no provisions made for the additional expenditure in the budget in February parties will have to wait for the Mid-term Budget Policy Statement in October to access these funds.

The ANC also needs time to sort out their own internal list processes which is a cumbersome and time consuming process.

Most importantly there are major challenges with the registration process. Firstly, the IEC has to ensure that the addresses for all voters are correctly reflected on the voters' roll. This is a massive undertaking and even with an election later into next year, it would be an undertaking that many doubt can be done.

Secondly, the parties, and in particularly the governing party, are anxious to ensure the registration of young voters. Only 6.3 million of the 11.8 million eligible voters in the 18 to 24-year-old age group were registered for the 2016 elections. This means that there are 5.5 million young voters that are up for grabs by political parties. If all of the 5.5 million people would register and 30% turn out on voting day, and 60% of those who vote do so for the ANC, it would mean close to 1 million additional votes for the ANC. Those are significant numbers and thus the ANC’s focus on this issue.

Both the correction of the voters' roll and registering of new voters are extremely time consuming and might ultimately be the spoke in the wheel for those who want to move the elections earlier.

My understanding is that the ANC is waiting for a report on these matters, before they make a final decision on the election date. If they feel confident that their concerns can be resolved, we might still see an election towards the end of this year or early in 2019.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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Read more on:    anc  |  2019 elections


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