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Worried about a one-party state? Don’t Panic!

Ian Ollis is currently a candidate for the Masters of City Planning (Transportation) programme at MIT in Boston. He formerly served as a South African MP, (Shadow Transport, Labour and Education Minister). He has also worked as a city councillor in Johannesburg, briefly lectured at Wits University and ran a real estate company. He has no dogs!

The ANC voter base is slowly but surely shrinking and the effects are being felt in their ability to drive their agenda in Parliament. If the trend continues, a true multiparty legislature is going to become the order of the day - another reason to calm down about the political troubles in SA.

So let’s look at the results. In the national elections from 1994, the ANC’s results have been 62.65%, 66.35%, 69.69% and 65.9%. Local election results have followed a similar pattern, but at a different level: 58.2%, 59.4%, 66.3% and 62%. This puts the high point of ANC electoral support in 2004. It appears from subsequent elections that this result will not be repeated. Since then, it has been a slow and steady march downhill. If the trend continues, without any split in the tripartite alliance – ANC, Cosatu and SACP – or unforeseen crisis, the ANC’s share of the vote in 2014 is likely to be around 61% or so, and by 2019 national election will be around 56% or 57%.

The local election results, if they remain in the same cycle and Zuma is unable to amend all the legislation necessary to put them on the same date as the nationals, would run something like 2016 ANC gets 58% and 2021 ANC gets 54%. This would put the ANC nationally under 50% at around 2024 reducing at the same rate. However, it is probably likely to be sooner as the rate of decline, if those in other countries are anything to go by, will increase, once the slide becomes accepted by the public at large. It may be that the ANC loses majority power in 2019. But that’s a numbers game and doesn’t take anomalies and economic and other conditions into account.

How this affects governing a country is much more profound than simple election results. The practical effect of the ANC losing a two-thirds majority in Parliament is now being felt. The ANC currently has 264 seats in the national assembly. That is three seats short of reaching the magic two-thirds mark. Which doesn’t sound like a whole lot considering parties who often side with the ANC like the PAC(1 seat) Azapo (1 Seat) and APC (1 Seat). 

However, in practice it is much more difficult than that. Due to the fact that many cabinet members are often not in the house and a number of such a large group are invariably ill or attending to crises elsewhere in the country, the ruling party only has close to all of its members in the house on the key ceremonial events such as the opening of Parliament, State of the Nation address and the budget vote. Even on these days it is seldom 100% attendance. Therefore, this means in practice that if one of the larger opposition parties does not vote with the ANC, it does not have its two-thirds necessary for all the key votes.

Constitutional amendments are a case in point. Most people don’t realise that the Constitution has been amended several times since 1995. The 18th Constitutional Amendment was placed on the order paper on 20 September this year. This amendment deals with powers over Abet and FET colleges being moved under the direct control of national government. Of course, this is not a good idea. Initially it appeared that Cope might vote with the ANC on this. When it became apparent that Cope would vote with the opposition and against this item, the 18th Constitutional Amendment was immediately withdrawn from the order paper. It was the same day that the Protection of Information Bill was removed from the order paper with another item. This meant that the three substantive items for that day were not on the order paper and the sitting was a waste of time for the most part.

What is becoming clear is that at current levels of electoral support and absenteeism in the benches, the ANC is virtually unable to amend the Constitution or make one or two key appointments if the major opposition parties all vote against them. And the situation, as I have indicated above, could get a whole lot worse for them. At 55% of the vote, it is likely the ANC will struggle to get a simple majority to pass budgets and ordinary items for reasons mentioned above.

No-one can say for certain what will happen in future, but, since this is an opinion piece, let me venture one. The pattern for liberation movements tends to be that they fall out of power between 18 to 23 years after having come to power. There are exceptions, such as dictatorships, but this is a general trend. As we are approach our 18th year in 2012, we enter the window in which ruling parties normally get booted out. It is my view that it is likely the ANC will continue to bleed votes in each election and drop in their percentage points. This will mean a reducing majority in Parliament and the need to bring opposition parties on board to approve legislation. What this also means is that the perception of the ANC’s absolute and lasting power is likely to get damaged rather severely.

I suspect that after the 2014 election we will see less legislation approved and longer time periods necessary to do so. This is good for democracy. We will need more multiparty buy-in to get the business of government done. So for those who are panicking about Malema’s threatened nationalisations and the non-payment for expropriations, it sounds all very menacing, but quite frankly, unless we have a coup, even the ANC will find it all but impossible to implement his policy agenda, even if they  wanted to do so. DM

Ollis is a DA MP. You can follow him on Twitter: @ianollis.


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