ID: Bridging traditional gaps

A million votes—that’s Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille’s aim for 2009. In 2004 the ID, born in 2003, came from nowhere to glean 269 765 votes, or 1,7% of the vote, becoming the country’s fifth-largest opposition party.

“The 2009 election takes place in the context of 14 years of democracy. It will be a time of sifting,” De Lille said. “The parties that survive this election will prove they’re here to stay. The smaller one-person parties will disappear and this will mean a more stable democracy.”

The split in the ANC and the formation of a new party marked “a new era of tolerance among political parties”, she said, predicting that the ANC could be “taken down” by a coalition of opposition parties.

Many charge that the ID is more of a one-person lobby group than an opposition party, but De Lille counters that it has grown both in membership terms (to about 200 000) and organisationally. She predicts that it will be a “kingmaker” in at least the Western and Northern Cape, while the climate in Gauteng, North West, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal is also favourable.

Professor Lawrence Schlemmer’s latest research shows the party’s support grew from 1,4% to 2% between March 2007 and May this year. It has won several recent by-elections in the Western and Northern Cape. In the latter province it is the official opposition in 80% of municipalities.

The ID positions itself as a bridge between rich and poor, black and white and rural and urban and as an option for disaffected ANC voters. De Lille says Mosiuoa Lekota’s party could erode some of this support, but that “the swing votes are there for any party with a good strategy”.

De Lille feels there is a weakness in South Africa’s voter education: although the electorate knows how to vote it has received no guidance on why voting is important. She said: “We need to move away from personality to issue-driven politics.”

The ID’s biggest strategic blunder in the 2004 local elections in the Western Cape was to offer support to the ANC, as its supporters see themselves as opposition voters. It has since announced that it will cooperate with other opposition parties in 2009.

“The parties which are working in coalition are pioneers. It is not easy. It is like a marriage—sometimes there is no love, we have our ups and downs and we have to fight to keep our identity. It has been a good learning experience that has prepared us for the possibility regionally in 2009. The secret of coalition is consultation and consensus,” she said.

Would she serve as Western Cape premier, a possible consequence of a winning alliance with the DA?

“We’re busy with party nominations. Our branches will come up with names. Our electoral college will meet soon and we’ll rank candidates. The process is ongoing, but I’ve said that if the party asks me or redeploys me I would consider it.”



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