/ 27 May 2011

Coalitions: ‘DA will be much more cautious this time’

Coalitions: 'da Will Be Much More Cautious This Time'

Coalition rule in Cape Town was the first major step in the Democratic Alliance’s move into government and the party now faces further coalition talks in a range of Western Cape municipalities. Mandy Rossouw asked DA leader Helen Zille what is at stake.

What has been your experience of coalition negotiations and governments at municipal level?
In a word: complex. Holding a coalition of widely divergent parties together is a challenging task as one can easily be held to ransom by very small parties, which makes it difficult to implement our ­policies coherently. We are going to be much more careful about ­negotiating coalitions this time round.

It’s past midnight at the IEC Election Centre, but DA leader Helen Zille joined us for a quick chat about her experience of and thoughts on how election day went.

In the DA’s view what are the deal-breakers in choosing coalition partners? With which parties would the DA not even contemplate an alliance?
This differs from place to place — in some cases there may be individual councillors with a problematic track record that we won’t be able to work with. In other places parties may make unreasonable demands which we’re not prepared to meet. And in some cases there may be significant differences of principles and policies that make coalitions unworkable. We will have to judge these issues on a case-by-case basis in our national negotiations.

What are the pitfalls of coalition talks?
Coalition partners making unreasonable demands because they know that the ANC will give them what they are demanding. It is summed up in the position: “If you don’t give us these positions we will do a deal with the ANC.” We won’t be blackmailed in this way.

What advice would you give to negotiators of coalitions?
There is one thing worse than losing elections and that is winning and then governing badly. A shaky coalition of individuals all pursuing their own interests is a recipe for bad governance. In such cases it’s better to be in opposition than in government. Voters get the government they voted for. There’s no point in destroying your party’s brand by governing badly.

What should coalition partners have in common, at the very least?
A commitment to good, clean, efficient and effective service delivery, rather than the scramble for positions and perks.

How many parties does the ideal coalition entail?
The ideal coalition situation is when the larger party needs only one partner to form a government but has a choice between several willing smaller parties. Then the larger party is in a strong negotiating position.

Often the king-makers in coalitions are parties with relatively little support but crucial votes. Do you find that these parties generally use their power responsibly?
Our experience is that it largely depends on the quality of the individuals involved. There are some who have been outstanding and really assisted in maintaining stability and focusing on delivery. There have been others who were only interested in what they ­personally could get out of the situation for themselves and they were always prepared to sell their support to the highest bidder. The two different types of people come from all parties.

Is there anything that you will do differently during this year’s set of coalition negotiations? Which important lessons have you learned?
We’ll be much more cautious this time round. I would rather see that the DA went into opposition in certain councils than become part of shaky, unprincipled coalitions that have no chance of achieving a successful delivery record.

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