Now for the horse trading

No clear winner has emerged in Cape Town’s municipal poll, opening up the prospect of negotiations for a unity government, with smaller parties such as the Independent Democrats and the African Christian Democratic Party in the pound seats.

At 1pm on Thursday, the count of 40% of the overall vote showed the Democratic Alliance in the lead at 51% and the African National Congress with 24,6%. But this is likely to change dramatically, as township wards are usually the last to be counted. Both parties were maintaining they were set to be the biggest party.

With the final result still pending, political parties were gearing up to trade horses over a new government for the city and its R18-billion budget. A final dispensation is likely to be settled at the weekend.

The ID appeared to be heading for a good result, claiming they had won Tafelsig and Eastridge in Mitchells Plain and lower middle-class, racially mixed Ottery.

Khayelitsha’s independent candidates, who broke away from the ANC to contest 10 out of 12 wards in the township, had failed to make an impact.

Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) political researcher Jonathan Faull said the smaller political parties now faced the challenge of ”political management” in a hung council. Hanging over them, however, was the shadow of the next floor-crossing period in 2008.

”Come floor-crossing time, it’s open season on smaller parties, which have traditionally haemorrhaged disproportionately,” cautioned Faull.

Amid the growing realisation that Cape Town would once more elude the ANC of an outright win — the party has never won the city in an election, but clinched control through defections in October 2002 — the ANC insisted it would take the lead in negotiations.

”We are open to taking forward the interests of our people … You’ll find us initiating the talks,” said ANC provincial secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha. He added that power-sharing decisions would be taken by the whole provincial leadership in consultation with the national office.

Executive mayor NomaIndia Mfekto declined to comment on possible negotiations. On Monday, she told the Cape Town Press Club: ”The election result will prove we have a track record. For us, the question is not whether we will win, but whether we increase the 38% we achieved in 2000, without the New National Party, to more than 50%.”

DA mayoral candidate Helen Zille insisted that after establishing itself as Cape Town’s single biggest party, the DA would ”start talking [about] the only option, opposition government”.

The DA blitzed the city in an effort to regain control after losing it in the October 2002 floor-crossing, when 27 NNP members quit the party.

In the December 2000 municipal elections, the DA won 107 of 200 seats on the back of a 53,4% vote, as white voters turned out in strength in suburbs such as Tableview, Sea Point and Newlands. The ANC received 38,5% or 77 seats.

DA representatives said that, according to the proportional representation votes captured on the Independent Electoral Commission’s data system, the party had done well on this occasion in coloured areas such as Mitchells Plain and Hanover Park.

The ANC’s proportional representation (PR) vote ranged from 6% in Bloubergstrand to more than 90% in the Khayelitsha wards. But in traditional coloured strongholds such as Ward 48 in Athlone, it logged just 26%.

The PR vote is no indication of how wards will do, as voters can choose ward councillors of a different party.

By midday Thursday, the ID was confident that its wish for a unity government would carry the day. But the party does not plan to enter coalitions. It hopes to exercise joint power by putting Cape Town under an executive committee system, in which parties would be represented according to their voting strength.

This would mean redistributing the power currently concentrated in the executive mayor’s hands.

If the proposal for an executive committee system does not fly, it is hard to see an alliance being forged between the DA and the ID, given the past few weeks of mudslinging between the parties.

”We will put forward our proposal [for unity governance] and take it from there,” a senior ID source said. ”Discussions will have to include not just Cape Town but the province.”

The ACDP has indicated it will also push for a council government reflecting parties’ strengths at the hustings. ”Multi-party democracy should equate with multi-party governance,” said ACDP election co-ordinator Grant Haskin.

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Marianne Merten
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