Opposition Parties and Elections

Wednesday, 15 April, 2009 - 12:15

While many may argue that the African National Congress (ANC) looks certain to lead the country into the 2014 polls, it would be naïve to ignore the many opposition parties contesting the elections in South Africa. Unlike in 2004, 1999 and 1994, the 2009 elections are characterised by a greater visibility of parties. Will they survive the elections given their limited funding, small support bases, unknown leaders and other challenges?

While many may argue that the African National Congress (ANC) looks certain to lead the country into the 2014 polls, it would be naïve to ignore the many opposition parties contesting the elections in South Africa. Unlike in 2004, 1999 and 1994, the 2009 elections are characterised by a greater visibility of parties. Will they survive the elections given their limited funding, small support bases, unknown leaders and other challenges?
 
A seminar hosted by EISA titled “Democracy Seminar: Wither Opposition Politics” in Johannesburg on 8 April 2009, provided a platform for political analysts to examine the role that opposition political parties can play during, and post-elections. With only a week to go before South Africa’s fourth democratic elections on 22 April, the debates and discussions that took place were very relevant.

Speaking at the seminar, Director for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, Steven Friedman, said opposition parties find themselves in a situation in which they are unlikely to win the elections in the foreseeable future.

“Voting patterns in South Africa are determined by identities,” he said. Friedman argues that South African voters generally identify themselves with political parties and their leaders. He said that there has been only a slight shift in the way that people vote, as they are very loyal to their parties of choice.

There is also a common view that breakaway political parties struggle to attract voters because they are engaged in battles for the same historical spaces as their rivals.

According to Aubrey Matshiqi, an associate at the Centre for Policy Studies, the Congress of the People (COPE), and the ANC are fighting for the same historical space. Matshiqi likened the ANC and COPE to Coca-Cola and its rival, Pepsi.

If the above view holds true, other breakaway parties such as the United Independent Front (UIF) – formed after separating from the United Democratic Movement (UDM) the New Vision Party (NVP) – formed after separating from the UIF; and the Pan Africanist Movement (PAM), African People’s Convention (APC) and the Independent Democrats (ID) – formed after separating from the PAC - will all face an uphill battle in getting voters to believe in them.

According to Rok Ajulu, Professor of Political Economy at the University of South Africa, opposition parties should try to use the upcoming elections to realign themselves in preparation for the 2014 elections. Matshiqi on the other hand argued that by positioning itself effectively in the country’s politics, the ANC had marginalised the opposition.

Unlike other provinces, voters in the Western Cape can choose between the ANC, Democratic Alliance (DA), ID and COPE. Matshiqi is adamant that the ANC will win the province, adding that Helen Zille will become the premier of a coalition government comprising of opposition parties.

Executive Director for Democracy and Governance at the Human Sciences Research Council, Kwandi Kondlo, argued that the splits within opposition parties have contributed towards them being. Kondlo, who based his discussion on the PAC and Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), says that while these two parties have been less effective, the former has been consistent on its position on land issues. The PAC’s contribution to the land debate resulted in the establishment of the Land Claims Commission, which he says was approved without acknowledging the PAC.

Kondlo argued that while AZAPO’s ideology was never clear, the party’s position on the issue of provinces in the country is. AZAPO proposes that South Africa does not need provinces, rather more resources should be used in fighting poverty in at local government level.

Programme Manager for Governance, Institutions and Processes at EISA, Ebrahim Fakir, said AZAPO seems to function as a civil society organisation representing an idea not an ideology. Fakir maintained that political opposition is not restricted only to political parties.

Many analysts believe that the rural vote will be significant in this election. Friedman however points out that many people have moved from rural to urban areas, making urban spaces like squatter camps and informal settlements, major battlegrounds for political parties. 

In conclusion, whichever party has victory at the polls next week, it is essential that opposition parties continue to work to deliver on their manifestos in the post-election period and prepare themselves for 2014.

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