/ 9 February 2011

Opposition party trouble ruinous for democracy

Opposition Party Trouble Ruinous For Democracy

The recent split in the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the disarray in the Congress of the People (Cope) are disastrous for South Africa’s multi-party democracy, political analysts said on Wednesday.

“This does not serve to strengthen democracy, rather it weakens it considerably,” analyst Prince Mashele said.

“The vibrancy of any democracy depends on the competitiveness of that system, the disarray in the opposition parties diminishes that competitiveness.”

The IFP recently split after a power struggle between its president Mangosuthu Buthelezi and national chairperson Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, who went on to form the National Freedom Party.

The Congress of the People is split by a leadership tussle between its founders, Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, with both claiming to be the party’s rightful president.

‘Is this party solid enough?’
The disarray in small opposition parties disempowered voters, Mashele said.

He expected both parties to perform poorly in the upcoming elections.

“Faced with a local government election, I don’t think a new party would be served well by internal infighting.

“Voters ask themselves simple questions: Is this party solid enough to deserve my vote. The answer in relation to Cope would be no … no one knows who is the leader of Cope … how would a rational voter decide to cast their vote for Cope when there is no clarity of leadership?”

In the 2006 local elections, according to the Independent Electoral Commission results, the African National Congress (ANC) garnered 67,71% of the total votes, the Democratic Alliance (DA) 13,92% and the IFP 8,38%.

Cope, formed in 2008, garnered some 30 seats in Parliament in the 2009 national election.

‘They will pay the price at the polls’
University of Johannesburg deputy vice-chancellor Adam Habib also painted a dismal picture of the likely performance of the two opposition parties.

“Opposition parties have not been able to make inroads … and they cannot blame the electorate for that, the problem is the parties themselves, their own leaders.

“They cannot even run their own parties … they will pay the price at the polls. Why should citizens trust them to run the government?” he said.

The problems in the two parties would serve only to strengthen the ANC, and to a lesser degree the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance.

“My sense is that there are people who are beginning to believe that South Africa is moving in the direction of a bi-party democracy, with the choice being either one dominant political party, the ANC, or one strong opposition party, like the DA,” Habib said.

According to Mashele both the ANC and the DA stood to benefit.

Both analysts agreed that independent candidates would not make any headway in the local elections, unless they were well-known and highly respected in their communities.

‘A bizarre situation’
Analyst Susan Booysen was more optimistic about how the IFP and Cope would fare, saying municipal elections were “much kinder” to opposition parties than national elections.

“Cope is a bizarre situation. But looking at local government elections results, Cope is not doing badly.

“It has established an identity across the board … those who have burned their bridges with the ANC may feel they don’t have many other choices.

“Cope could very well keep small proportions of their votes, those of people on the ground who continue to be angry with the ANC will make a statement through their votes.”

She argued that opposition party politics in South Africa was not necessarily about winning against the ANC, and somewhat more complex than people assumed.

“Small parties take great joy in making small inroads. This adds colour and flavour to our multi-party democracy.”

And this, she said, kept the ANC on its toes.

“It doesn’t just fall into their [the ANC’s] laps anymore, they have to work for it,” she said, citing an example where President Jacob Zuma visited Mossel Bay three times ahead of a local government election there. — Sapa