DA goes virtual as congress to elect leader moves online

The Democratic Alliance looks set to hold its October elective congress online, despite concerns that the move will disadvantage some candidates contesting the position of party leader.

The three way leadership race between interim leader John Steenhuisen, Gauteng chairperson John Moodey and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli was abandoned, along with the party’s policy and elective conferences, because of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

The DA’s federal council meeting at the weekend endorsed a proposal to hold the elective conference in October by virtual means and this week instructed its provincial structures to start the process of preparing for the congress.

Some party leaders expressed concerns about going ahead with the congress and proposed that it be held after next year’s local government elections to ensure a fairer contest and to improve participation by branches from rural areas.

An early conference would also benefit Steenhuisen, who has a public profile and access to party structures despite the lockdown, giving him a better ability to campaign than his opponents.

DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille said she and party chief operations officer Liana van Wyk had been mandated to prepare a plan on how to hold the congress online in such a way that party members could participate.

They would submit the proposal for the virtual congress, which has to accommodate about 2000 delegates from DA structures around the country, to the federal council when it sits in July.

Zillie said: “Our initial thinking shows that this is possible, but we have to trial it in practice.”

She said the critical elements for holding an online congress would be the voting platform. The DA’s technical team is evaluating various platforms in terms of providing a safe and secure platform to conduct free and fair elections.

A decision on which to use would then be taken.

Zille said the party was continuing with political activities, most of which had migrated online after the lockdown was declared in March. Door to door canvassing, disciplinary hearings and the majority of branch annual general meetings had been put on hold, but a branch general meeting pilot project would get underway soon.

“We are confident we will be able to do this. Otherwise, every one of our processes has migrated online. Our caucuses and structures are meeting on schedule,’’ she said.

Next week the party will hold an online manifesto planning meeting involving 200 people for the local government elections. It has already moved its process to select a mayoral candidate for George online, and will do the same for its selection processes for the local government elections next year, she said.

“Our communications, polling, human resources, everything, has been moved online and in many ways has become a lot more efficient and cost effective,’’ Zille said.

The postponement of the policy conference and elective congress would result in slight delays in preparations for the 2021 poll, which was likely to be held close to its constitutional limit near the end of next year.

“We will catch up and we will be ready to go into candidate selection next year.

“We think it is likely that the election will be pushed close to the constitutional limit next year, so there will be enough time to make up the backlog,” she said.

It is not clear at this stage how the ANC is approaching the 17 regional and two provincial conferences that were postponed for three months in March when the lockdown was declared.

The governing party also postponed indefinitely its mid-term national general council meeting, which had been set for July. The party’s national executive committee also postponed indefinitely the elective conferences of its youth and women’s leagues.

The ANC’s regional and provincial leadership structures have continued to meet on virtual platforms, but other processes, including the holding of branch general meetings necessary to select delegates for the conferences, are still on hold.

The delays are also set to eat into the party’s time for preparations for next year’s election, including candidate selection, the nominations for which are generated from branch level upwards.

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe did not respond to the Mail & Guardian by the time of publication.

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Paddy Harper
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