Splits won’t help mi­nor­ity par­ties

The sound and fury of po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing may make some dif­fer­ence, writes Craig Dodds

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

MIL­LIONS will be spent, emo­tions will be stirred and politi­cians will push them­selves to the limit be­tween now and the day next year when vot­ers seal their fates with a cross, but only a few per­cent­age points of the to­tal vote, cru­cial as they may be, are up for grabs.

With the first reg­is­tra­tion drive next weekend sig­nalling that the start­ing gun will be fired soon, South Africans should brace them­selves for a bar­rage of rhetoric, feel­good schemes and out­right pro­pa­ganda as cam­paign­ing goes into over­drive, but an­a­lysts agree the coun­try is not yet ripe for a ma­jor shift in the elec­toral bal­ance of forces.

There is wide­spread anger and frus­tra­tion with the ANC top lead­er­ship, fo­cused on Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, but this will not nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into votes for op­po­si­tion par­ties, says Pro­fes­sor Su­san Booy­sen of the Wits Grad­u­ate School of Pub­lic and De­vel­op­ment Man­age­ment.

There was an “im­mense con­ver­gence” among sup­port­ers of dif­fer­ent par­ties in their crit­i­cism of gov­ern­ment pol­icy and per­for­mance.

“And so, yes, a DA, an EFF, an ANC sup­porter may very well agree, con­verge, on what they say about the pres­i­dent, but that does not mean they are go­ing to vote for the party that has said most, or given most crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent in its elec­tion cam­paign.”

Though anger and dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Zuma would hurt the gov­ern­ing party, the loss of sup­port for the ANC was not di­rectly pro­por­tion­ate to the lev­els of frus­tra­tion.

There was still “a grand ringfenc­ing” of ANC sup­port.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ebrahim Fakir of the Elec­toral In­sti­tute for the Sus­tain­abil­ity of Democ­racy in Africa (Eisa) said the “pro­to­type” was that ANC vot­ers were not pre­pared to give their vote to another party, “but they’re pre­pared to take to the streets”.

Vot­ers might stay away from the polls in­stead of vot­ing against the ANC, Fakir said, which could ben­e­fit the op­po­si­tion by hand­ing them a greater share of the vote un­der South Africa’s pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem.

Booy­sen said this was of­ten a con­scious de­ci­sion and a form of “op­po­si­tion lite” to pun­ish the gov­ern­ing party. Those ANC vot­ers who were “re­ally an­gry” might choose to vote for Julius Malema’s EFF, know­ing how much he in­censed the ANC lead­er­ship. It would be eas­ier for those who iden­ti­fied with the ANC to vote for the EFF be­cause it was al­most seen as in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion.

But, Booy­sen said, de­spite the “ro­man­tic” ap­peal of the fledg­ling party’s rad­i­cal poli­cies, vot­ers were re­al­is­tic about the im­pact th­ese would have on them.

“There is a big el­e­ment of ro­man­ti­cism around resti­tution and re­turn­ing the land to those who it le­git­i­mately be­longs to… but when they look at their own lives they re­ally look at whether they can make a liv­ing on it, can they grow veg­eta­bles on it, is it just for sub­sis­tence, sur­vival, or can they find a job out of it,” Booy­sen said.

Fakir said while the EFF might be able to mo­bilise young vot­ers, Malema and his fire­brand pol­i­tics had been used in pre­vi­ous elec­tions.

“And when you look at young peo­ple’s turn-out, it was high, but not as high as peo­ple es­ti­mated it to be.”

The bulk of the EFF’s sup­port would come from the ANC and new vot­ers, not op­po­si­tion par­ties.

The other new­comer, Mam­phela Ram­phele’s Agang SA, was set to make an even smaller im­pact, said Booy­sen: “I don’t see any dy­nam­ics un­fold­ing in pol­i­tics that tell me there’s mo­men­tum build­ing up.

“They could be eat­ing into the po­ten­tial ex­tra sup­port the DA might have had, they could cap­ture a lit­tle cor­ner of the new emerg­ing voter corps, even black African born-frees, but this is pretty small.”

Fakir cau­tioned against the ex­pec­ta­tions of op­po­si­tion par­ties that the post-1994 gen­er­a­tion who had never lived un­der apartheid would be more open to vot­ing for them. The “mas­sive as­sump­tion” that they were “like a clean slate that op­po­si­tion par­ties can go and write a script on” was “slightly er­ro­neous”. They were so­cialised in com­mu­ni­ties with mem­ory of apartheid and still felt its ef­fects “in em­ploy­ment, ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion, op­por­tu­ni­ties in the econ­omy and up­ward so­cial mo­bil­ity”.

While things had changed to a de­gree, this was likely to be at­trib­uted to the rul­ing party. Booy­sen said the DA had yet to break through the racial bar­rier “big time”.

“I def­i­nitely think it has reached a lev­el­ling-off. It is mak­ing in­roads, but I think small in­roads, into the black African voter body, and not enough to make a huge dif­fer­ence.”

Fakir said the DA’s im­proved per­for­mance in the 2011 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, which were not di­rectly com­pa­ra­ble to na­tional and pro­vin­cial elec­tions be­cause the is­sues and the elec­toral sys­tem dif­fered, had been largely a re­sult of a bet­ter turn-out of its vot­ers.

An anal­y­sis of pat­terns at vot­ing sta­tions used by black Africans showed the DA had achieved an av­er­age in­crease of 3 per­cent among th­ese vot­ers in 2011.

“So even though they are get­ting all their vot­ers out, they are work­ing hard at cap­tur­ing new vot­ers; the suc­cess rate among Africans is still rel­a­tively mod­est – it’s not as great as they claim it to be,” Fakir said.

Booy­sen said if it turned out the DA’s share of the poll was in­creas­ing only in­cre­men­tally, this would raise “huge ques­tions” about its fu­ture di­rec­tion since it would sug­gest its tar­get of 30 per­cent of the vote could not be reached on its own.

Cope, the wild­card in the pre­vi­ous na­tional elec­tions, has since stum­bled through a crip­pling lead­er­ship bat­tle that is not over yet, re­sult­ing in many of its mem­bers re­turn­ing to the ANC, but Fakir said the bleed­ing may now be un­der con­trol.

“Those Cope vot­ers who would have gone to the ANC have al­ready long gone. Those who are in Cope or are think­ing of an al­ter­na­tive are prob­a­bly think­ing along the lines of the DA or Agang, be­cause they are die-hard now, they’ve re­solved ‘the ANC is not for us’,” he said.

Booy­sen said the party would ben­e­fit from its fairly strong repre- sen­ta­tion in the pro­vin­cial and na­tional leg­is­la­tures: “If they can pull their act to­gether there is that cor­ner they can still re­gain a lit­tle bit of. But I’ve lit­tle doubt they are go­ing to go into se­ri­ous de­cline.”

The IFP, on the other hand, dealt a crush­ing blow by the ANC in its KwaZulu-Natal strong­hold in the pre­vi­ous elec­tions, ap­peared to be sta­bil­is­ing in some ar­eas.

“So they prob­a­bly will go down a bit fur­ther from pre­vi­ous re­sults, but I don’t think they’re fac­ing elim­i­na­tion,” she said.

The an­a­lysts agreed all the op­po­si­tion par­ties com­bined were still a long way from threat­en­ing the ANC’s ma­jor­ity.

“The sum of the con­stituent parts doesn’t mean they’re go­ing to be able to dis­lodge the ANC. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen,” said Fakir.

“Be­cause of the PR sys­tem you can put to­gether all of the op­po­si­tion votes and you’re not go­ing to pull to­gether 50 per­cent to re­strain the ANC. Not now.”

Nev­er­the­less, ac­cord­ing to Fakir, the sound and fury of cam­paign­ing did make a dif­fer­ence.

“It makes a dif­fer­ence to turnout, it makes a dif­fer­ence to con­vince peo­ple who, like you, are frus­trated – look, give us a chance.”

craig.dodds@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

GET IN LINE: Early-morn­ing vot­ers wait to cast their votes dur­ing the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in Cape Town on May 18, 2011.

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