South Africa

EXPLAINER

Which political coalitions will make the most logical sense for SA?

Which political coalitions will make the most logical sense for SA?
An MK party member walks towards buses at the manifesto launch at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | Supporters of the Democratic Alliance at a Rescue SA Rally at Willowmoore Park Stadium. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | An ANC supporter at the Siyanqoba Rally at FNB Stadium. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | An IFP supporter with a shawl depicting the late party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi at the Inkatha Freedom Party national and provincial election manifesto launch at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

The clock is ticking. The ANC has less than two weeks to form some kind of coalition to govern South Africa. We look at which parties make the best logical matches.

Everyone’s talking about a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement between parties rather than a full coalition. What does it mean?

In a formal coalition, parties would divvy up executive posts (for instance, Cabinet positions) and essentially govern together. This is still a possibility for South Africa but, given the polarised nature of our politics, might make for a schizophrenic and unstable governance situation — if it involved the Democratic Alliance (DA), for instance, it would greatly constrain the DA’s ability to criticise the ANC as its political spouse. A full coalition would probably be difficult to sell to supporters of both parties.

Then there’s the fact that the parties have quite different positions on various policy points —  more about this below.

What seems to be more likely is a “confidence and supply” agreement. The “confidence” bit refers to motions of no confidence and the “supply” bit to budgets. In essence, it would mean the parties voting together on various key things in the legislature necessary to maintain stable governance.

This would also have the advantage of allowing the relevant parties to maintain their political identities.

What would the ANC’s partner party or parties get out of this?

This will be the focus of the ongoing negotiations between parties.

As Ferial Haffajee has reported, one option would be a confidence and supply agreement which would see the DA take important posts in Parliament, like the Speaker and various committee chairs. This would, in theory, allow Parliament to perform a more robust watchdog role than it has in recent years, where Speakers drawn from the ANC have often been accused of playing defence for the governing party.

If something more like a traditional coalition is envisaged, the ANC would have to part with certain Cabinet positions. News24 reported that one possibility being floated is that the DA could be given the positions of minister of home affairs and minister of trade and industry.

This would come with significant risk for the DA, or any other party involved. One of the theories as to why the Good party performed so badly in these elections, landing up with fewer than 30,000 votes, is because voters were punishing leader Patricia de Lille for having served as minister of public works in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration.

At the same time, this doesn’t seem like a hard and fast rule: former Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder served as deputy minister of agriculture in former president Jacob Zuma’s first Cabinet in 2009, for instance. Although he received criticism from within his party — and the DA accused him of putting “pension before principle” and betraying the opposition — it did not seem to do the FF+ lasting electoral damage.

Which parties will the ANC consider partnering with?

The biggest ones in terms of vote share, to minimise the number of parties necessary to govern: the more parties involved, the less stable the coalition.

The four runners-up to the ANC in the election were, in descending order of size: the DA, uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Patriotic Alliance (PA).

The general thinking is that unless a very broad government of national unity is envisaged, the ANC would have to choose between the DA, with the possible inclusion of the IFP, and the other parties. The DA would probably refuse to be part of a co-government arrangement with the EFF or MK, and the feeling is mutual.

The DA received sufficient votes in the election to make it the sole partner necessary for the ANC, since combined the two parties would have 62% of the vote. But bringing in the IFP might be a good diplomatic move for the ANC as it could allay concerns about partnering with an “anti-black” party — which is the narrative being spun by the DA’s critics on social media. The IFP might also be able to play a kind of (not particularly enviable) buffering role between the DA and the ANC.

Who is lobbying for what?

It has been reported that ANC Chair Gwede Mantashe is opposed to an agreement with the DA, while the party’s veterans — like Snuki Zikalala and Mavuso Msimang — are said to be vocally in favour.

Former Cabinet minister Lindiwe Sisulu has urged the ANC to reject the DA in favour of a “Black Pact of Progressive Forces”.

Trade union federation Cosatu — an alliance partner of the ANC — said before the elections that its preferred coalition partner for the ANC would be the EFF and not the DA. On Tuesday, Cosatu reiterated its objection to the ANC entering a coalition with the DA.

A ferocious campaign is being waged on social media, with the aid of Independent Media, in favour of a coalition pulling in the MK party and/or EFF rather than the DA.

Which parties are best aligned on policy to the ANC?

Cosatu’s argument before the elections was that the EFF would be more protective of the rights of the black working class than the DA, which is why the ANC should favour the Fighters.

In economic terms, the DA and the ANC are not worlds apart; both take fairly centrist positions, though the ANC swings more left — particularly on issues like the National Health Insurance project, which the DA has outright rejected.

But both the EFF and the MK party pursue far, far more radical economic policy positions than the ANC, particularly in terms of nationalising banks and mines.

In addition, the MK party wants to scrap the Constitution, while all messaging from the ANC post-elections has been committing the party to constitutional principles.

In terms of the key pieces of legislation the ANC has introduced to Parliament in recent years, researcher David Jeffery-Schwikkard has determined that the DA has rejected the majority. Of 12 laws introduced over the past decade, ranging from the National Minimum Wage Bill to the NHI Bill, the DA voted against 10 and in support of just two.

This is a stark indicator of the ideological distance that still remains between the two parties, although opposition politicking naturally also plays a role.

By contrast, the EFF has voted in favour of the ANC’s laws on five of these occasions and against them seven times.

The IFP has been the most amenable of the three opposition parties to the ANC’s legislation in recent years, voting alongside the governing party for seven pieces.

This suggests that the IFP is the cosiest ideological bedfellow to the ANC, and its most logical partner. The IFP and ANC together do not have sufficient votes to take them over the threshold, however, so any arrangement with the IFP would have to involve other parties.

One of the greatest sticking points in negotiations may be the position of President Cyril Ramaphosa: the MK party has said it would not consider being part of a coalition while Ramaphosa is at the helm of the ANC, while ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula told journalists on Sunday that any suggestion that Ramaphosa be ditched was a non-starter in talks.

Although the DA has been vocal in its criticism of Ramaphosa over the Phala Phala saga and other issues, it is likely to find a Ramaphosa-led ANC far more palatable to partner with than an ANC led by the current Deputy President Paul Mashatile, who would be almost certain to follow Ramaphosa into the leader’s chair. DM

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