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Coalitions complex & complicated — let the thousand permutations bloom

Coalitions complex & complicated — let the thousand permutations bloom
Illustrative image: President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Andy Wong) | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

With less than a week before the National Assembly and the nine provincial legislatures have their first sittings after the elections, it is still unclear what will happen and whether political parties can work together. Despite that, some things are known and some assumptions can be made.

There is little that is certain about our politics in normal times, never mind times as complex as these where such a tight deadline is imposed upon decision-makers. That said, some things can be safely assumed to be true.

The first is that there will not be a rerun of the 2024 election.

The Constitution appears to limit the option of another election in these circumstances to situations where “the result of an election of the National Assembly is not declared within the period established in terms of section 190, or if an election is set aside by a court…”

The election has already been declared by the Electoral Commission, meaning the only other option is if a court sets it aside.

uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) has repeatedly said it will contest the validity of the election in court, but as yet has presented no evidence of wrongdoing.

Second, it is safe to assume that any government must include the ANC and that it will be the main, dominant partner.

This is not just because it won more than 40% of the vote, which is much more than anyone else. It is also because the parties that came second, third and fourth — the DA, MK and the EFF — cannot and will not work together.

If it is true that the country cannot be governed without the ANC, it may also be true that KwaZulu-Natal cannot be governed without MK.

This brings us to our third near-certainty: governance in KZN will be a mess.

This is because MK won 45% of the vote in that province, which translates to 37 of the 80 seats in the KZN legislature. The IFP, ANC and DA together hold 40 seats, while the EFF has two.

EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu has already said they would support MK in KZN, meaning the single seat which could decide the balance is held by the National Freedom Party (NFP).

But even the EFF’s support seems fragile, because EFF leader Julius Malema may well be frustrated that Zuma formed MK in the first place, something which cost the EFF votes. Were it not for MK, Malema would in all likelihood be in a much stronger position than he is now.

Even if their relationship works, none of the representatives from these two parties in the KZN legislature appears to have any governance experience.

To make matters more complicated, MK has said it will not attend Friday’s National Assembly sitting. This may well mean it won’t attend the KZN legislature sitting either.

That would open the door to an ANC/IFP/DA coalition, particularly if the NFP joins them. 

It is worth considering the wisdom of trying to govern KZN without MK.

The fact that the national police commissioner has sent so many police officers to the province and is keeping them there indicates his concern about what could be a combustible situation.

And it is not certain that an ANC/IFP/DA coalition would be sustainable either. A sitting of the provincial legislature which one member does not attend could see power changing hands.

Thus, it can be safely assumed that the provincial government in KZN will not be sustainable.

The third safe assumption is that there cannot be a government of national unity (GNU) that includes both the EFF and the DA.

Both parties have made it clear that they will not work with each other. The DA will also not work with MK.

This means there can be no GNU, at least in the way it was originally proposed.

That is the end of the list of what we can consider to be almost certain.

Unlikely combinations

Then there are combinations which are very unlikely to happen and which can probably be ruled out, at least for the moment.

The first is the ANC working in government with MK, which is extremely unlikely to occur, despite the meetings which took place over the weekend.

Zuma has betrayed the ANC too often. He and other officials have said they were working on forming MK more than four years ago. During this time, Zuma was sitting in National Executive Committee meetings of the ANC as an observer.

Surely no relationship can survive such a breach of trust. Even if the ANC and MK were to try to work together, it simply would not last.

The relationship between the ANC and the EFF may also fall into this category.

Just over a year ago, in March 2022, Malema was so confident that he could tell Parliament, “I’m in charge… I’ve got you by the scrotum”.

Much has changed since then. While his party lost only a small amount of support, that difference is enough to stop the ANC and the EFF from forming a government in the national government or Gauteng without the help of other parties.

What a difference those two percentage points have made.

While there has been a long and difficult history between the parties and particularly their leaders, perhaps the most important recent comment on this came from the ANC chair, Gwede Mantashe, in the weeks before the election.

Speaking to BusinessLIVE he responded to Julius Malema’s suggestion that Floyd Shivambu should be finance minister by saying, “Where I have influence I will never accept Floyd as a minister of finance because that is an outright formula for looting.”

This surely shows that any agreement in which the EFF is given significant power in government is simply not possible.

Possible but difficult

This takes us into the realm of the “merely unlikely”: combinations which are possible, but still difficult.

Here, the most important relationship is between the ANC and the DA.

As previously stated, it is very difficult for the ANC to work with the DA in government.

Both the ANC and the DA will lose votes in the process. Some ANC voters will believe a line has been crossed by working with the DA, while some DA voters will believe the party is keeping the ANC in power despite all the corruption associated with it.

This makes a formal coalition, in which the two parties share power, unlikely.

This may well be what underpinned the DA’s apparent offer of a “confidence and supply” model: the belief that the ANC has very few options.

Obviously, the matter is nowhere near an end. There are many known-unknowns (where we know we don’t know), and unknown-unknowns (where we don’t even know we don’t know).

Perhaps the most important known-unknown is that we do not know whether MK will make good on its threat to boycott the first sitting of the National Assembly on Friday.

If MK’s 58 MPs do not attend, then the number of votes the ANC needs to elect a President will fall from 201 to 172. (Under Parliament’s rules, a President needs to win a majority of votes of the MPs who are present. If all 400 are present that number is 201, but if only 342 MPs are present that number falls to 172.) 

The ANC has 159 seats, making it just 13 short.

The IFP has 17 seats, which would get the ANC comfortably over what it needs.

This may be the least difficult option for the ANC. Reaching an agreement with the IFP in the short term to elect a President may well be the best option for the moment.

This would also remove the tension of the 14-day deadline and allow everyone to breathe.

But only until MK takes up its seats in Parliament.

Which means Cyril Ramaphosa could remain President only until Zuma tells his MPs to go to Parliament — because there can be no doubt of one of the biggest certainties in our politics: Zuma hates Ramaphosa and wants him out of power. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Coutts-Trotter says:

    weird that nobody even has a comment yet on a singularly intelligent yet strange piece!!

    • jason du toit says:

      this was published late in the evening. most people here (judging from comment time stamps) read their news in the morning and into the afternoon.

  • gideon caldwell says:

    Referendum time?

  • Alan Penfold says:

    Yes, strange for this forum where I feel somewhat unqualified and insufficiently knowledgeable despite DM’s best efforts, to comment beyond the fact that two Recent reports restore some hopes that reason and repect may yet prevail in RSA. First, the Eastern Cape Court decision allowing a former Distric Manager to be sued by a municipality for failure pay court ordered compensation to an injured employee and second, the Court ruling with all costs to the EFF complainants regarding their eviction from Parliament for their SONA disruptions. Of much less impact than achievment of a GNU government, but a good sign on the horizon that reason and common decency may yet prevail. If only we can also get the justisce systems operating with far greater immediacy.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Can we get to Friday already, get parliament sat, get the process done and then demand that Zuma puts up or shuts up, once and for all?

  • The Proven says:

    Insightful! It is a very ironic that Zuma’s refusal to come to parliament is the very reason why Ramaphosa will remain president!

  • Rudolph Oosthuizen says:

    Let us hope that when it dawns on the two dictators who are orchestrating the MK and EFF that they are busy painting themselves into a corner, SAPS and SANDF will be capable of stemming the violent response sure to be incited by these dictators.

  • M D Fraser says:

    Has anyone noticed that the ubiquitous, opinionated and judgemental “tumelo tumelo” has been conspicuous by his/her absence since the elections ?
    Maybe the batteries in the ‘bot’ ran out !

  • Johan Buys says:

    Is it absolutely clear that a president needs only the majority of valid votes cast in Parliament? Some people maintain the President requires 201 votes.

    If DA+MK+EFF+IFP (210 people) boycot and the rest vote against CR, then could ANC elect the president with 159 votes out of 190 total?

    • Paddy Ross says:

      You are ignoring the “sleepers” that exist among the ANC MPs. If Ramaphosa is the sole nomineee for President, it is an open election to confirm him as such but if in the likely situation of there being more than one nominee, there will be a secret ballot. That is when the sleepers will surface.

  • Lucifer's Consiglieri says:

    Currency markets seem now to be pricing in the expectation of a sensible outcome. Currency markets are excessively optimistic. The risk of an unstable fovernment or one in which the crazies/crooks have significant influence is still a very real one.

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