A One-Party Democracy

The conditions promoting the consolidation of democracy are likely to impose various structural constraints on the development capacity of new or born again democracy. Since 1994, development has been slow in South Africa. In 19 years, we still have abject poverty and millions living in substandard housing. In essence, the advent of democracy has failed to bring about substantial development. Many put the blame solely on the ruling party and its many ineptitudes.

Acclaimed political scientist, Samuel Huntington, makes the point that for a democracy to be fully consolidated, it needs two successful turnovers of power. Opposition parties hold onto this notion as if it were the Holy Grail. However, in a heterogeneous society like ours where people still resort to violence to show their dissatisfaction, a turnover of power might just result in de-stabilising the nation, rather than uniting it. Perhaps a dominant party state is exactly the type of consolidation we need.

South Africa is not alone in its one party dominance. It is traditionally assumed that if one party is dominant for an extended period of time, an authoritarian system will develop. This is not always the case. Japan, Singapore and our own neighbour, Botswana, are perfect example of this. In Japan the Liberal Democratic Party held power without break from 1955 to 1993. This ensured policy continuity and a dynamic development strategy that did not have to deal with the whirlwind of changes which a turnover of power brings.

It is important to note that South Africa like Botswana and Singapore saw the emergence of a dominant party democracy because of the strength of these parties at the point of independence or move to democracy. The dominant parties in these cases played a role in the establishment of the new state, and hence cannot be seen as separate from the state.

While we have a dominant political party, we could and should be moving towards becoming a coalitional development state. This does not, as is popularly assumed, mean that there is coalition of political parties.

Politics is only one element of proper development in a democratic system. There needs to be a coalition between the various bodies of influence within the country. A broad agreement must be negotiated between all major stakeholders in this country. An agreement about the direction, shape and pace of our development strategy. So that even if by some miraculous turn of events we are ruled by a different political party, the development strategy will be kept on course. This is especially true where one community holds the majority of political resources and another community controls a major part of the economy. In essence the black/white divide.

Hence our current government needs to extend its hands to the predominantly white controlled economy and they need to work together to create the type of development we envisioned in 1994.

The issue is not whether South Africa is democratic or not. The issue is whether our specific brand of democracy will promote the type of development we saw in countries like Singapore, Japan and Botswana.

Hence it is foolish to believe that democracy is a sufficient condition for development.

By Fazlin Fransman

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