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ANC’s waning support makes coalitions a reality

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Picture: ANA file – The election data board at the IEC. A recent poll conducted by Ipsos from May 14 to July 3 this year, shows that if an election were to be held tomorrow, the top three political parties combined would claim 62 percent of the vote, with the ANC getting 42 percent, the DA 11 percent and the EFF, 9 percent.

By Bheki Mngomezulu

The increasing number of political parties and independent candidates in South Africa has weakened the old political formations. In every election, old parties such as the ANC, continue to lose seats.

This happens at national level and in provincial legislatures and local governments. Since its establishment in 2013, the EFF has shown constant growth in terms of its membership. However, its growth has not translated into the party commanding municipalities, provincial legislatures or the National Assembly.

Its achievement has been evidenced by a slight increase in the number of seats obtained in each election. The recent poll, conducted by Ipsos from May 14 to July 3 this year, paints an interesting picture of the prospects of moving towards coalition politics in the near future – starting with the 2024 national and provincial elections. In total, 3,600 people were involved in the survey. From this number, 141 people below the age of 15 were excluded. This left a sample size of 3,459.

The results for the top three political parties show that if elections were to be held tomorrow, the three parties combined would claim 62 percent, with the ANC getting 42 percent, the DA 11 percent and the EFF, 9 percent. The number of people who indicated that they would not vote constituted 10 percent. Five percent indicated that they did not know which party they would vote for while 7 percent refused to answer the question. A few conclusions can be drawn from the statistics. The first is that the ANC’s support is in constant decline.

This has been evident in the 2019 general election and the 2021 Local Government Election. For example, last year, the ANC lost 18 municipalities. Most of the municipalities went to the IFP, either directly or through a coalition with other smaller parties. A second observation is that the EFF, which has been growing its support in each election, seems to be gradually reaching its ceiling.

There could be several reasons for this. First, the level of excitement about the EFF is no longer what it was when the party was established as it has cut down somewhat on its radical stance. Second, the youth who constituted its support base are increasingly reaching their voting age. Since the new membership is no longer increasing at the same pace, once those who are in the system reach voting age, they keep the membership of the party relatively stable or see the party growing slowly. A third contributing factor to the figures in the survey is voter apathy. In the main, this is occasioned by a lack of service delivery as well as corrupt activities by politicians. When people do not receive services or receive less than what is due to them, they become frustrated. After changing leaders in each election but seeing no positive change in their lives, they think twice about voting.

This results in each political party getting a few votes which translate into only a few seats in each sphere of the government. In each election, the general trend is that more and more political parties are formed to participate in the election. As the ANC loses its dominance, and as the official opposition party, the DA, loses more black leaders and struggles to grow, the possibility of any political party getting an outright majority in the 2024 general election is significantly reduced. If the top three political parties fail to obtain more than 50 percent of the vote, the rest of the parties would find that threshold being a mountain too high to climb. In that case, if no party obtains more then 50 percent support, the only option would be to form a coalition government.

Experience shows that South Africa is not ready for coalition politics. Part of the reason is that politicians become preoccupied with satisfying their political egos. A party with only one seat makes huge demands, such as asking for a deputy mayor, speaker or municipal manager position, in the case of local government elections.

The party that leads the coalition is forced to bend over backwards so that it does not lose its position. The sad reality about such an arrangement is that it compromises democracy. The will of the electorate is suffocated in that, by their very nature, coalitions are decided upon by politicians in the boardrooms. Voters have no say during negotiations. The onus is on political parties to take the Ipsos poll results seriously and act on them now to avoid the possibility of a coalition that looks real.

* Bheki Mngomezulu is professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of the Western Cape