ANC set to benefit from floor-crossing

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is set to entrench its political dominance with a 15-day window period opening this week to allow elected officials to swap party allegiance without losing their seats.

The opposition is likely to be further fragmented as representatives at the national, provincial and municipal government levels are free to cross the floor from Saturday for two weeks.

Although analysts do not expect major power shifts, the small parties will be the biggest losers as the ANC is shielded by a clause requiring at least 10% of a party’s members to defect simultaneously for any switchover to be valid.

With 293 out of 400 seats in Parliament, it is highly unlikely that nearly 30 ANC MPs will abscond at the national level, while representatives of most of the smaller parties require only one or two members to cross the floor.

“If we go by our experiences of the past, most defectors are likely to join the ANC,” said Denis Kadima, the executive director of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

“People won’t go for parties that don’t have a future. They will opt for a party that will guarantee them getting back in Parliament.”

The country’s second biggest party, the main opposition Democratic Alliance, has 47 seats in Parliament.

Political researcher Jonathan Faull from the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) said the ANC was attractive in terms of size, stability and longevity for representatives wishing to leave “sinking boat” parties.

“Obviously, in some cases expedience is a factor. People think they are more likely to get ahead in the ANC.”

Floor-crossing, initially precluded by an anti-defection clause in the South African Constitution of 1996, was legalised in 2002 despite a legal challenge and public ire at the perceived trampling of voters’ rights.

Four pieces of legislation were passed to allow for two 15-day defection periods between five-yearly elections.

The change enabled the former New National Party (NNP) -‒ whose predecessor ruled the country during apartheid — to abandon an alliance with the former Democratic Party and be absorbed into the ANC, in power since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

Idasa research shows that 1 100 public representatives have switched sides since the inception of floor-crossing. The ANC has been the big winner, taking control in two of the country’s nine provinces previously out of its reach.

In the most recent round of floor-crossing in 2005, the ANC gained an outright majority in the Western Cape province for the first time.

It also gained 14 seats in Parliament, while the DA lost three. Five new parties were formed.

“The general trend was a further fragmentation and weakening of the opposition and the real and relative strengthening of the ruling ANC,” an Idasa document said.

It argued that the 25 MPs who crossed the floor nationally in 2005 nullified the intention of nearly one million voters.

“Floor-crossing … undermines the principle of participatory democracy envisioned by the Constitution: Representatives shuffle across the aisles of power without any imperative to consult or be held accountable to citizens or their opinions.” – AFP

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Mariette Le Roux
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