The electorate has spoken

2016-08-16 06:00

THE 2016 local-government elections proved to be a journey of discovery for all of the political parties. After months on the campaign trail, whipping crowds into a frenzy with song and dance, belting out big promises and shaming the opponents, political leaders were presented with hard truths by the electorate.

None of the parties performed as well as they had hoped, but some did better than others.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) increased its share of the vote and won the largest number of votes in several municipalities that were previously ANC strongholds. The DA’s biggest successes were in Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane, and it surpassed its own expectations by reducing the ANC’s majority in Johannesburg.

The Inkatha Freedom Party regained ground it previously lost to the ANC and proved it cannot be written off as a dying political brand.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) did not win any municipality as it had hoped, and was not able to triple its support as its leaders had pitched. However, in Gauteng in particular, the results show significant numbers of people switching from the ANC to the EFF.

The ANC’s results have become the biggest area of focus.

The party took a beating across the country, dropping to 53,9% nationally and losing support in all provinces except KwaZulu-Natal. But even in KwaZulu-Natal, the party lost control of municipalities where it previously enjoyed a comfortable majority.

The ANC has been stunned by the results in Gauteng, with all three metros left hanging, and is heavily bruised at losing its majority in Nelson Mandela Bay after so much time and resources were invested in retaining control of the municipality. The ANC is now struggling to forge coalitions with opposition parties in hung municipalities with relations with its opponents at an all-time low.

Smaller parties are wary about co-operating with the ANC, fearing they will be treated with disdain.

The EFF is trying to use its leverage to secure concessions from both the ANC and the DA, and is stalling on making commitments with either one.

For journalists covering the elections and counting process, it was a roller-coaster ride. A large media contingent was based at the Independent Electoral Commission’s results operations centre in Pretoria, where we watched the results trickle in from last Wednesday night.

Those were tense days, watching political-party delegations study the screens, monitor the IEC processes for discrepancies and compare figures to what their party agents at counting centres were sending them.

There were whoops of delight occasionally from the DA, but most others looked distraught as the big screens animated their poor performances.

Journalists had the benefit of having dozens of politicians at our disposal, willing to talk and do interviews as the situation unfolded. But we also had to be careful not to be misled.

Some minor parties did their best to put a positive spin on the results, claiming that they had performed better than previous elections. Others were jumping the gun, proclaiming victory in municipalities before all the votes were counted.

As the ANC’s losses became visible, the party’s delegates punted a line that they had received five million more votes than they had in the previous election. It had to be pointed out to them that the number of ANC ballots did not translate to actual voters as people had marked either two or three ballots, for the metro and district municipalities.

Some of the party leaders accused the media of taking perverted pleasure in their misery. Perhaps some did, but for many of us the 2016 election was a humbling, learning experience. We all assume that we know our country. Politicians claim to speak for others and take people’s loyalty for granted.

With simple crosses, voters communicated so much and pointed the country in a new direction. This election showed that our country is in a state of flux and political change in now inevitable.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

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