Like the ANC, the DA seems to be constantly grappling with the rules of the game when it comes to campaigning for the election of its leaders. And the nuances are interesting, especially with its caucus elections nearing. CARIEN DU PLESSIS checked out where the main opposition party’s at.
As endorsements roll in thick and fast for the two candidates for the DA’s mid-term elections for its parliamentary leader, another debate is raging in the party. One of the candidates, current parliamentary leader Athol Trollip, has expressed surprise about his challenger, Lindiwe Mazibuko’s rather public campaign – the most media-oriented one for the DA parliamentary mid-term elections since democracy began (during Tony Leon’s time as party leader, he served as MP and was parliamentary leader almost by default, and in 2009, while Trollip’s running against Ryan Coetzee for the position was a fierce battle, it wasn’t nearly this out-there).
Then again, Mazibuko is the party’s national spokeswoman and she deals with the media all the time, so the DA should have expected nothing less.
Mazibuko has employed HWB Communications to run her campaign, and it was at a press conference organised by them last week that she announced her intention to stand. It is also HWB which this week released Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille’s endorsment of Mazibuko. More are set to follow, also from ID ranks.
Mazibuko’s campaign for the leadership position is so public because it is also about transforming the party’s image in the eye of the electorate – she is young, black, female and happening. This is very much where the party’s strategists are wanting to head in the run-up to the 2014 general elections.
Trollip has been rather quieter, although as incumbent it would not make sense for him to announce his intention to be re-elected quite as publicly.
Senior party MP Dene Smuts over the weekend issued a statement expressing her support for Trollip for his strong stance against those who attacked the party.
“This election is a contest between an untested sapling from the grow-your-own-timber nursery against a tree that has shown it does not bend. It is not a transformation test for the parliamentary caucus: there are far stronger black MPs than the candidate,” she said.
She also emphasised that this wasn’t a “campaigning post” but a parliamentary election where caucus members would have to vote for one of their own.
It’s not that Trollip’s publicity-shy. When he threw his hat into the ring for DA leader after Leon announced his intention to step down ahead of the party’s 2007 conference, Trollip had a press conference announcing his intention to stand, and he ran a very public campaign.
This was, however, a campaign process facilitated by the party and not an external agency, and the three candidates (Joe Seremane and of course Helen Zille also ran) were transported by the party from province to province to lobby support from party members there who would be voting at the party’s conference.
This time it’s different though, because the position is less public. Only the members of the DA’s caucus will be allowed to vote – that is 77 DA MPs, five ID MPs and Zille, as party leader.
The party’s rules – new ones have been adopted in the past year – provide for endorsements by fellow party members, but it says nothing about how public these should be, or who is allowed to endorse when.
But there are conventions. Trollip said he hadn’t run his election campaign in the media for a reason. “Caucuses have a specific code for how they run, and I’m running my campaign along the lines of caucus conventions. I do find it interesting and unique that people who are not going to participate in elections (can make endorsements),” he said, with reference to De Lille’s endorsement of Mazibuko. De Lille, of course, isn’t part of the caucus.
He said although the caucus has its own rules, it doesn’t necessarily cover everything. “You can’t have rules for everything in life.”
Chairman of the DA’s federal executive James Selfe, said the party’s rules governing its elections “will be defined over time, but as far as I can tell, they are being adhered to in this case”. (Incidentally, party insiders claim that Mazibuko has the blessing of both Selfe and Zille, but as senior leaders they are unlikely to publicly acknowledge this or take sides.)
The DA’s Gauteng executive might just fire the first salvo in asking to clarify the rules.
Provincial vice-chairman Ian Ollis said Gauteng’s leaders on Friday resolved that they would propose new rules around campaigning, “to clarify what is allowed or not allowed in terms of campaigning for caucus”. (Disclosure: Ollis is an iMaverick/Daily Maverick columnist.)
The set of rules the party had adopted in the past year about campaigning is mostly focussed on negative campaigning and using race, gender or sexual orientation as a basis for running a candidate’s elections campaign. All these are, of course, a no-no in campaigns.
It seems there would be no proposals around rule changes now, because of the upcoming elections.
The DA has mid-term elections for its caucus leaders in all the legislatures as a way of affirming the caucus’s support for the leaders, or to elect new ones if needed.
Mazibuko would be running with party federal chairman Wilmot James as caucus chairman, and Watty Watson as chief whip.
Running with Trollip are Sej Motau as caucus chairman and incumbent Ian Davidson as chief whip.
Current caucus chairman, James Masango, is returning to Mpumalanga, and has thrown his weight behind Mazibuko.
The election is due to take place on 27 October. DM
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