Menu Close

SA politics: Coalitions are always a compromise

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

By Lulu White

Even though the nation has a long history of dominant party rule, coalition governments have increasingly become a common feature of South African politics.

In certain of the country’s metropolitan councils and municipalities, no one party has been able to win a majority in the last local government elections, which resulted in the creation of coalition governments.

President Cyril Ramaphosa stated in a speech in 2018 that while the coalition structures that exist in some of the country’s municipalities do present challenges, they also offer opportunities for all political parties to collaborate and bring different perspectives to the challenges that the various communities are facing.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to South Africa. In reality, coalition governments are more and more prevalent in different parts of the world.

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel who presided over a coalition government from 2005-2021 articulated the challenges that coalition government entail.

She said in an interview with “The Guardian” that coalitions are always a compromise and that it may be challenging for politicians to work together when there are competing interests and priorities.

These sentiments are echoed by many politicians across the world, with many questioning what can be done to decrease the volatility in coalition governments.

During the state visit of President Sauli Niinistö from Finland, President Ramaphosa hinted at a plan that would get parties with the most votes to form a coalition government in order to end instability in municipalities.

He said that even in the face of divergent political ideologies and interests, political parties needed to cultivate a culture of collaboration and should prioritise the needs and interests of the people of South Africa rather than the spoils of governance.

A threshold is a minimum percentage of the vote that a political party must achieve in order to secure representation in Parliament.

The idea behind introducing thresholds for coalitions is to reduce the number of parties that are able to enter into a coalition and to ensure that only the most popular parties are involved. This can lead to more stable and effective coalition governments.

In Germany, where coalition governments are common, thresholds have already been introduced.

Political parties must achieve at least 5% of the vote to secure representation in Parliament. This has helped to reduce the number of smaller parties involved in government, which has led to more stable coalitions.

In the Netherlands, where there is a proportional representation system similar to South Africa, a threshold of 0.67% has been introduced. This has helped to reduce the number of parties involved in government and has led to more stable coalitions.

However, the introduction of thresholds for coalitions has not been met without criticism in some parts of the world.

In some countries, it has been argued that it is undemocratic to limit the choices available to voters and exclude smaller parties from government. While others have contended that it can lead to a lack of diversity in government, with minority groups being under-represented.

Countries such as Britain have argued that if countries are to exclude smaller political parties from coalitions, this will likely shut down their perspectives on government and that could represent a lack of representation for their supporters. This could pose a problem for democracy.

It is further important to note that, while the South African Constitution does not explicitly address the issue of coalition governments, the decision to exclude smaller parties from government based on a threshold may be seen as a violation of the right to representation by smaller political parties; potentially opening the country up for constitutional challenges.

In conclusion, coalition governments are a necessary feature of democratic societies, but they can be unstable and prone to infighting.

The introduction of thresholds for coalitions may offer a solution to ease instability, but they must be based on objective criteria and not be discriminatory.

Ultimately, any decision to introduce thresholds must be carefully considered and debated to ensure that all citizens’ voices and perspectives are heard.

*Lulu White is the Chief Executive of Elections Management and Consulting Agency.