ANALYSIS: Hard discussions ahead as parties see unexpected results

2019-05-09 15:08
Julius Malema (right) and Floyd Shivambu (left) stand as the South African national anthem is sung at the EFF Tshela Thupa Rally at Orlando Stadium. Picture: Palesa Dlamini/ City Press

Halfway through the tallying of the votes cast in the 2019 national and provincial elections, unexpected twists will have major parties asking themselves some hard questions in the weeks and months to come about what they could've done differently in their campaigns.

While vote counting is by no means over, polls suggesting that the EFF would double their share of the national vote seems to have grossly overestimated the party's support.

Preliminary numbers show the EFF will get a share of roughly 9.5% of the vote, well below the 15% some polls predicted.

While this may be disappointing to the EFF, it still means that the party, now only participating in its second national election, has grown its support significantly from the 6.35% it received in 2014.

"In election campaigns, there is something very dynamic that happens in the last week of the campaign. The numbers shift. To some extent, the EFF was squeezed by the ANC towards the end," says News24 elections analyst Dawie Scholtz.

"In a way, I sympathise with them. No one could've anticipated how low the turnout would be. It looks like we're getting about 65% turnout and we were expecting 72%. The EFF are maybe the unwitting casualties of that. Because their voters are the least likely to turn out."

With the EFF's campaign targeting mostly the youth and statistics showing young people are less inclined to vote, the red berets were fighting an uphill battle from the start.

"Within the black electorate in townships we know that EFF voters are the least likely to go vote. If we have low turnout in townships it's going to have a disproportionation impact on the EFF," says Scholtz. "Even though I think they ran an excellent campaign, the voters they were targeting are those who are disillusioned with the ANC. It was always going to be a tough ask."

But the EFF are the masters of public relations and growth of three percentage points will be interpreted by them as a big win, especially if the DA fails to grow significantly. Along with the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), they will have been the only major party to show growth, which has already caused some to point out that it is a sign of the right and left starting to eat away at a weakened centre.

"If you look at what's happening at the centre, political parties are not picking up the issues very well. The DA is not extremist, it's a practical party. It pursues incremental policy manoeuvring. Now you have the FF+ growing on the one extreme and you have the EFF growing on the other extreme. It shows we are moving far from the centre. The policy differences are becoming more entrenched."

This will very likely prompt a serious discussion in DA ranks about what happened in the past two years that made it bleed support.

"Voters are very smart," says political analyst Ralph Mathekga. "They look at the EFF and DA and see that you can't rely on the DA to counter the EFF. It pushes people further towards the FF+. The challenge here with the DA is to know how combative they need to be. Because that's how the FF+ did it while the DA was in no man's land."

But the DA could also embrace the change in the make up of its support base and lean into the black support base its gaining. It is a hard discussion the party will have to have after the election.

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