It appears that Patricia de Lille’s hand may have been tipped by the local press. “De Lille bombshell in DA leadership battle,” the front page of the Cape Argus trumpeted on Monday morning. The newspaper announced that it had “reliably established” that de Lille had been asked to stand against the current DA Western Cape leader Ivan Meyer, and contender Lennit Max.
The article went on to quote a DA insider as saying that “the request” [for de Lille to stand for election as provincial party leader] “came from the top. It is believed that national is not happy with the two candidates currently standing for provincial leader”.
Ivan Meyer was elected uncontested as DA Western Cape leader in 2012, replacing former leader Theuns Botha, who became his deputy.
In his acceptance speech in 2012, Meyer said that his target was to gain 60% of the electoral vote for the DA in the province in 2014. The DA ended up winning just over 59% of the vote.
As late as Sunday, it was being reported that the only two contenders for the provincial leadership were Meyer and former Western Cape police commissioner Lennit Max. Meyer gave no indication on Sunday that he would not be running for a second term, including telling Business Day that he had “extensive support” for his bid in the regions.
“My goal for the next term is to win all 30 municipalities for the DA in the 2016 local government elections,” Meyer said on Sunday.
By 11am on Monday, everything had changed.
“Patricia de Lille is now the right leader for the right time,” Meyer told journalists who had been summoned to a hastily-convened press conference. He announced that instead of standing for a second term, he would be endorsing de Lille’s nomination.
“My decision to stand back is in the interests of the DA and the country,” he said. “There were no fights about this particular matter.”
For her part, de Lille paid gushing tribute to the “maturity” shown by Meyer in standing down in her favour. When asked about the reports that she was the national DA leadership’s preferred candidate, and that the national leadership was unhappy with the prospect of either a Max or Meyer leadership, de Lille said there was “absolutely no basis” to say that there was factional friction about the matter.
“I can assure you there is absolutely no in-fighting within the DA,” de Lille said, with Meyer nodding agreement.
De Lille said that her decision was not taken lightly, but that it was motivated by the impending 2016 local government elections. She said she believed she had the necessary experience, after having been “the first woman to establish a political party [the Independent Democrats] that got political representation at the national, provincial and local level”.
De Lille is standing for leader on a slate with Bonginkosi Madikizela as her deputy. Madikizela is currently the Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements.
When asked how she would be able to juggle being Mayor of Cape Town with being the party’s provincial leader, if her bid is successful, de Lille said she did not anticipate any problems.
“As it is, I work 7 days a week and 16 hours a day,” she said. “I will divide my time in a very disciplined manner.”
Nominations for the provincial leadership close at the end of this week, with De Lille now currently only facing Lennit Max. Max launched a failed bid for the leadership in 2010, but his attempt was overshadowed by lurid allegations of sexual misconduct from a former police clerk. (Max later sued Die Son newspaper for having printed claims from the clerk that his penis was abnormally large, with a sexologist eventually testifying that his penis size fell “within normal measurements for an adult male”.)
The Argus reported recently that Max has been carrying out energetic lobbying for the position across the Western Cape. While his chances against Meyer were thought to be better, there will be few people placing bets on Max succeeding against De Lille.
While it may or may not be true that De Lille was pressured to take out Meyer as a contender by the national leadership, it has been speculated that Meyer is perceived as insufficiently dynamic to galvanise the party towards the 2016 local government elections.
Despite the DA’s majority in the Western Cape, party leaders will likely feel that there is little room for complacency. Last week the ANC bested the DA in a closely-fought battle for a ward in Ceres. Also in last Wednesday’s by-elections, the ANC comfortably retained ward 5 in Swellendam.
DA leader Helen Zille has previously said that internal lobbying within the DA in the run-up to elections to its leadership positions can be fierce.
When Meyer was elected in 2012, Zille said: “While our internal elections are hotly contested, and there is a lot of lobbying, they are also democratic, transparent, peaceful and positive”. DM
Photo: Patricia de Lille and outgoing DA Western Cape leader Ivan Meyer at a press conference in Cape Town on Monday (Rebecca Davis)
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