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Ignore the polls, vote on 8 May — and wait

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Judith February is the executive officer of Freedom Under Law and editor of Judith’s Prudence, the Daily Maverick legal newsletter.

What is certain is that this election will be both important and unpredictable. Much will hinge on turnout. A high turnout will favour the ANC.

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

One almost wants to quote Donald Rumsfeld in the last few days until the 2019 election. All around us we are bombarded by political party posters and politicians promising just about everything from houses to jobs.

A cynical electorate has heard it all before.

Different polling data screams out at us. In one day alone we had three polls to contend with. All three, MarkData, Ipsos and the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) were at odds. Polling data is fickle and often an unreliable measure of what will actually happen on election day.

The Institute for Race Relations (IRR) poll has the ANC at 49.5%, with an increase to 51% if turnout is at 72%, the Democratic Alliance between 21.3% and 24% and the Economic Freedom Fighters at between 14% and 14.9%

On the other hand, Markdata has the ANC sitting at 59%, the DA at 21% and the EFF at 12%. Finally, Ipsos is predicting the ANC at 61%, the DA at 19% and the EFF at 11%.

The IRR poll does seem the most surprising outlier given past data. And so what is certain is that this election will be both important and unpredictable. Much will hinge on turnout. A high turnout will favour the ANC. It is, of course, significant that the number of 18-19-year-olds who have registered to vote is down by 47% from 2014.

The ANC, for its part, will battle to reach 62.15% as they did in 2014. So much has happened since then, not least of which are increased corruption, State Capture of democratic institutions and, mercifully, the resignation of former president Jacob Zuma. That the ANC is paying the price for years of neglecting its core constituency is something that was clear in the 2016 local government elections, when its support tanked to 53.9%. That was a precarious result, to say the least. The ANC and Ramaphosa particularly will not want to be stuck in the early 50s on election day 2019.

Since Zuma’s resignation, Ramaphosa has, despite difficult internal party politics, stoically used the power of his office to start cleaning up the state. Significant progress has been made at SARS, the National Prosecuting Authority and at state-owned enterprises. But the clean-up will take time, a steady hand at the tiller and crucially, a president who is also able to navigate the restructuring of Eskom and other urgent economic challenges.

Embarrassingly for the ANC, this election has again laid bare its internal tensions with secretary-general Ace Magashule speaking to die-hard supporters in Parys this past weekend as posters with his face and that of other corrupt members of the party flutter in the wind. At his side, the Machiavellian Carl Niehaus ramps up support for the party’s charlatans.

In the meantime, Ramaphosa continues to campaign valiantly for the clean-up and for reform within his own party. So it all feels a little contradictory, leading to the question:

Which ANC is one voting for? The ANC of Magashule or Ramaphosa?”

The DA, on the other hand, seems to have become an expert at imposing self-inflicted damage. In the Western Cape, its support is not on its usual sure footing.

Is there any wonder that this is the case? The way in which the DA dealt with the De Lille matter was amateurish and left citizens bewildered. Was Mmusi Maimane leading the party or Natasha Mazzone, who seemed to do all the explaining?

We still have no real idea as to why De Lille was removed from her position and replaced by the insipid Dan Plato. Was the DA simply pandering to the coloured vote by inserting him as mayor? That seems to be the crude conclusion one can draw. Was this the best they could do? Cities are crucial when thinking carefully about future sustainability and spatial development. Can Dan Plato lead astutely on any of these issues? Chances are that he cannot.

In addition, the water crisis was dealt with in a haphazard manner, with the DA again foisting the inexperienced Xanthea Limberg on citizens. When Maimane arrived in Cape Town, his response was to distribute buckets in upmarket areas. Dithering leadership does not ensure electoral stability. The DA has become complacent in power in the Western Cape and must be surprised that even its own Western Cape polling is so tight. It should be able to clinch the necessary majority, but lessons should be learnt ahead of the next local government elections.

The ANC and EFF are champing at the bit about a possible alliance in the Western Cape, but the key question will be turnout and whether the core constituencies of the EFF and ANC have registered to vote? It’s all up for grabs.

The political landscape is splintered and smaller parties such as the Freedom Front Plus and the ACDP and Good in the Western Cape will surely hurt the ANC and the DA, as voters are desperate for alternatives. At a national level, it would be surprising to see the DA increase its share of the vote.

The EFF will doubtless increase its overall share of the national vote. But the question is by what percentage? Current polling does not specifically assist us, but the EFF’s message has resonance for its populism and proposals of easy solutions to complex problems. That Malema himself has question marks hanging over his head regarding corruption may not matter to those seeking alternatives to the economic crisis we are in. It is the party to watch in this election.

Malema styles himself as “President-in-waiting”, but also as Kingmaker-in-Chief. He may well be right on the latter, especially in Gauteng. South Africa is increasingly headed towards “coalition country” and the question then will be whether political parties have the maturity to set the constructive and ethical conditions for an effective coalition government. Given the unprincipled outcome in Nelson Mandela Bay, for instance, it does not augur well for future political stability. Malema is a political opportunist and will inevitably be an unreliable coalition partner.

So, in many ways, this election will be consequential.

But for all the confusing, contradictory polling out there, a week (or less) is a long time in politics. The one “known known” is that one should never underestimate the final ANC “push” or indeed the ability of the DA to get out its core vote.

It’s therefore probably best to ignore the polls, vote on 8 May — and wait. DM

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