EXPLAINED | What is the DA's federal council

The DA's outgoing federal council chairperson James Selfe. (Deaan Vivier, Netwerk24)
The DA's outgoing federal council chairperson James Selfe. (Deaan Vivier, Netwerk24)

The position of the DA's federal council chairperson is currently a hot topic, after former leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille announced that she will contest this position alongside Athol Trollip, Mike Waters and Thomas Walters.

The new chairperson will be elected at a meeting of the federal council at the end of this month.

Why is the DA now electing a chairperson of its federal council?

The incumbent, James Selfe, leaves this post to head up the DA's new governance unit which has been tasked with supporting DA governments to ensure that they deliver more effectively.

Selfe has held the position of chairperson for the past 19 years, serving during the leadership tenures of Tony Leon and Helen Zille. He is widely regarded as a reservoir of the party's institutional memory.

What is this role?

The DA's constitution states the person in this position is "entrusted with and responsible for the organisation and administration of the party, and for developing and maintaining a high degree of efficiency in the party".

This person must implement decisions of the federal council and federal executive, work closely with the federal leader, federal chairperson, federal chairperson of finance, and chief executive officer and perform other functions and duties and exercises powers assigned to him or her, within the provisions of this constitution by the federal leader, federal council and federal executive.

It is a role similar to that of the ANC's secretary general, albeit that the DA has a different party structure and does not prescribe to the Soviet doctrine of democratic centralism like the ANC.

This means the DA's different structures have a bit more autonomy than that of the ANC. It is viewed as a key position in the party structure - an integral cog in the party machinery.

How does this differ from the federal chairperson?

Being the chairperson of the federal council is a more hands-on job in the day-to-day running of the party than that of the federal chairperson. The chairperson of the federal council has a firmer grip on the party's machinery.

The federal chairperson is very much a deputy to the federal leader.

The DA constitution prescribes the following tasks for the federal chairperson:

  • Presides over the federal congress;
  • Deputises for the federal leader if he or she is absent or incapacitated;
  • Performs whatever tasks and functions are delegated to him or her by the federal council or federal executive from time to time;
  • Is responsible for the co-ordination and alignment of party policy.
  • What is the DA's federal council?

    It is the party's policy-making and governing body when the federal congress is not in session.

    The federal council consists of the following:

    • All members of the federal executive (often referred to as the FedEx);
  • Chairperson of the federal legal commission;
  • The provincial chairpersons and provincial chairpersons of finance;
  • Regional chairpersons of the party in whose area of jurisdiction at least 80 000 votes were cast for the DA at the most recent national election;
  • 24 MPs;
  • 24 MPLs;
  • 24 local government councillors;
  • 24 DA members who are not public representatives;
  • Any additional members, up to six, co-opted by the persons referred to above, subject to a two-thirds majority of the federal council meeting approving each co-option by secret ballot;
  • Two staff members from each province designated by the provincial chairperson, without voting rights.
  • The federal council must meet at least three times a year at times and places determined by the chairperson, and is obliged to do so by the decision of the FedEx or when requested by a petition signed by at least 30% of its members.

    How does this differ from the FedEx?

    The FedEx performs the functions and exercises the powers of the federal council when the council is not in session, but only the full federal council may approve candidate selection regulations and any amendments thereto and any political performance assessment system for public representatives.

    The FedEx consists of the following:

    • The federal leader;
  • The federal chairperson;
  • Three deputy federal chairpersons;
  • Chairperson of the federal council who also chairs FedEx meetings;
  • Two deputy chairpersons of the federal council;
  • The leaders of the party in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces if they are not already members (in this case Mmusi Maimane is already a member, as he is the DA's leader in the National Assembly);
  • The federal chairperson of finance;
  • Provincial leaders;
  • DA chief whip in the National Assembly;
  • Federal leader of the DA Youth;
  • DA Student Organisation (DASO) federal leader;
  • Federal leader of the DA Women's Network (DAWN)
  • Chairperson of a structure recognised by the federal council which represents the MPLs of the party;
  • Chairperson of the Association of Democratic Alliance Councillors;
  • Chief executive officer, without voting rights;
  • Six members co-opted by a two-thirds majority of the federal executive by secret ballot.

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