The Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) role as kingmaker is not as clear-cut in the 2019 elections as it was in the 2016 polls.
The most obvious reason for this is that May 8 is a national election and therefore — despite the dismal mood of the country — is still likely to bring about a voter turnout higher than that of the 2016 local government elections.
Another key reason is that there is no unifying factor driving sentiment toward opposition parties or for staying away from the polls. This factor in the 2016 local elections was Jacob Zuma, who is no longer president. His state capture project has unravelled and his allies are on the back foot.
Now that sentiment is more subjective, dependent on whether the reforms instituted by President Cyril Ramaphosa are deemed significant enough thus far by voters, it is unclear whether the ANC will be punished as much as it was in 2016.
The only province slightly vulnerable to a potential coalition government is Gauteng. North West, at a push, could be.
Looking at the numbers, provinces such as Limpopo, which the EFF is targeting, and Northern Cape, which the Democratic Alliance has its eye on, look relatively safe for the ANC.
The ANC’s support in Limpopo and the Northern Cape in 2014 was 78.6% and 64%, respectively. In 2016, the party’s support in the two provinces stood at 68.7% and 58.2%, respectively. Only a huge, unforeseen shift in sentiment could cause these provinces to slip below 50% for the ANC in the upcoming poll.
In North West and Gauteng the EFF could play a kingmaker role, as well as get government posts — its leaders are on record saying that, after the 2019 polls, the party will be in government — and it does not have to be voted in to obtain these posts.
The statement by EFF leader Julius Malema that he will be president (without necessarily being voted for by the electorate) clearly indicates that he hopes to continue riding the party’s role as a kingmaker to get posts and access to power.
This week, Malema said he was not willing to enter into a coalition with the DA again after it alleged in its election campaign message that the EFF and its leaders were corrupt.
Given that there is little chance of a coalition with the EFF in Gauteng, the DA’s positions in Tshwane and Johannesburg could be vulnerable after the election. Budgets must be passed in council, failing which municipalities could be placed under administration and fresh elections could be called.
After the 2016 election the EFF was a blushing beauty courted by both the DA and ANC, but now there’s a plethora of new, smaller parties contesting the polls. They include the African Transformation Movement, Black First Land First, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party and the African Content Movement. Many of these are aligned to the ANC faction that remains loyal to Zuma.
But these parties are untested at the polls and are unlikely to make enough of a dent individually for large parties to consider them as bedfellows.
The older small parties will probably re-emerge as a force and are more likely to provide coalition support to the ANC or the DA. The United Democratic Movement, the Freedom Front Plus, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Congress of the People would place less onerous demands on the DA and ANC than the EFF.
It all depends on the extent to which the ANC’s support in Gauteng — and possibly in North West — slides.
Should support in North West fall by 10% compared with 2016 (and not with 2014), it would still need only a 3% boost from a smaller party to govern the province. Even if — a big if — the ANC lost 15%, it could decide to sit in the opposition benches. This would resolve the running battles with Zuma ally Supra Mahumapelo, who was removed as premier last year but who was reinstated to the post of provincial chairperson of the ANC by the high court.
Polling across the parties and among independent analysts indicates that the ANC, at worst, would need just 5% support from coalition partners to retain power in Gauteng — its support in 2014 and 2016 was 53.5% and 45.8%, respectively.
In a way, the tables have turned. This is the province in which the EFF’s fortunes will rise or fall. It could potentially be cut out of power-sharing deals.
What is clear is that it is not going to be smooth sailing for the kingmakers of old.