Splits won’t help minority parties
The sound and fury of political campaigning may make some difference, writes Craig Dodds
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.”
GET IN LINE: Early-morning voters wait to cast their votes during the municipal elections in Cape Town on May 18, 2011.