After months of anticipation, widespread speculation and tireless campaigning by political parties, the 2009 South African elections have come and gone. As expected, the African National Congress (ANC) has once again been delivered an emphatic mandate to govern, winning 65.9% of the national vote and a majority in eight of the nine provinces. Now that the votes have been tallied, it is clear that there have been several key changes in South Africa’s political landscape.
However, despite the appearance that the political landscape has remained largely the same, the ANC’s support base has indeed shifted. For the first time since 1994, the ruling party’s support has declined nationally, and in most provinces.
The political context in which the 2009 elections were held was defined by several key issues:
Firstly, would the controversy around Jacob Zuma be an electoral liability for the ANC and whether the ANC would again win more than two-thirds of the national vote, allowing the ruling party an easy majority in Parliament. Although this outcome remained unclear until the last of the voting stations declared final results, the two-thirds majority proved elusive, and the ruling party finds itself a mere three seats short of the 267 needed to dominate any vote taken in the National Assembly.
Second, would the voting public display an electoral appetite for the opposition? Under the leadership of Helen Zille, the Democratic Alliance (DA) was re-launched as a party ready to govern, rather than a party content to simply fill the opposition benches. The party has benefited from a relatively strong track record in the Cape Metro government, and has attempted to both broaden its support within the electorate and dispel perceptions that it represents minority interests: namely those of white and coloured voters, and of the middle class.
Third, how the emergence of the Congress of the People (COPE) last year, as the result of an unexpected cleavage within the ANC, would influence support for the opposition. COPE’s establishment appeared to generate a great deal of excitement, particularly among voters who, broadly speaking, were interested in a non-racial opposition with demonstrated political capital and credentials, those who felt disillusioned by the ANC’s performance and governance of its new leadership in recent months.
At the same time, COPE’s performance at the polls also hinged on the party’s ability to prove itself a more measured alternative to the ANC, and to distinguish itself from the ruling party through its policy proposals and governance approach.
Finally, the emergence of COPE and a relatively stronger DA also begged the question whether South Africa’s small opposition parties would be able to maintain their relative shares of the national and provincial lists.
Now that the votes have been tallied, it is clear that there have been several key changes in South Africa’s political landscape.
Read the full brief about the immediate trends visible in the national and provincial results
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This is the first in a series of Idasa briefs analysing the results of Elections 2009. It was written by Kate Lefko-Everett, Neeta Misra-Dexter and Justin Sylvester and re-published here with permission from Idasa, a SANGONeT content partner.