…but will it be a two-thirds majority?
As Alistair Darling rises in the Commons for the Budget speech, thousands of miles away voters will be casting their ballots in South Africa’s fourth national election since the end of apartheid, with provincial elections also taking place on the same day. For the first time since that historic 1994 election, the ANC, on paper at least, finds itself facing a serious challenge – but as with football, it’s what happens “on the pitch” that really matters.
South Africa uses a system of closed party list PR at the regional and national level which very closely matches seats to votes, so if the ANC does ever fall below 50% of the vote, it might find itself being forced to share power, or even, perhaps unthinkably, be in danger of losing it. The electoral system is actually a purer form of PR than in Israel or the Netherlands, but any potential instability is currently masked by the ANC’s massive strength, securing almost 70% of the vote in 2004, at the top end of popularity anywhere in the democratic world – indeed the ANC must be one of the few governing parties to have improved in two successive elections, up from 63% in 1994 and 66% in 1999.
The founding of the new COPE (Congress of the People) party at the end of last year, and the replacement of Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader by Jacob Zuma have meant that post-apartheid politics in South Africa is currently in a state of flux. COPE was formed as a breakaway grouping from the ANC by Mbeki supporters, and although it performed strongly in some early by-elections, eyebrows were raised at the choice of the inexperienced Mvume Dandala as the party’s presidential candidate at the election (the president is elected by the National Assembly).
The other main party in South Africa is the DA (Democratic Alliance), with its powerbase in the Western Cape and Cape Town, where party leader Helen Zille is the Mayor (and was selected as World Mayor of the Year in 2008). The DA was formed from the Democratic Party and the New National Party (the successor party to the apartheid-era ruling NP) and despite having a white leader, has been able to secure much support from mixed-race and coloured voters in the Cape.
Likely to finish fourth are Chief Buthelezi’s IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party), who carried their heartland of KwaZulu-Natal in 1994 and 1999, but have been increasingly squeezed in recent times, with the ANC recently declaring that there were no more IFP strongholds, helped by the fact that Zuma himself hails from the province. With a national share of 70%, by contrast the ANC has overwhelming support in most provinces, topping out at 89% in Limpopo and 86% in Mpumalanga in 2004, not far off Obama in DC or Chirac in Paris in 2002.
In contrast to most other elections where there is an abundance of polls, in South Africa they have been extremely thin on the ground – indeed I’ve only found two (here and here). This is perhaps not surprising, as the election winner is beyond any doubt whatsoever, and the only issues at stake are whether the ANC will secure the two-thirds of seats they need to enact constitutional changes (they have denied that they have any plans to do so), and the performance of COPE and the DA. A possible future COPE-DA merger has been mooted, but there would be a number of issues to be dealt with before this could take place.
If the few polls are to be believed, the ANC may well come close to winning two-thirds of the seats, with its popularity scarcely being dented by the emergence of COPE or by the DA. The Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal may well be the only provinces where the ANC does not have an overwhelming victory, although COPE have expressed the opinion that they may be able to triumph in the Eastern Cape, where the ANC won a mere 79% five years ago.
Time will tell if COPE and the DA are able to seriously challenge the ANC’s grip on power – how long before South Africa undergoes the experience of France and Greece in 1981, Spain in 1982, and Mexico in 2000 and a different party takes charge for the first time – will 2009 be the year that the door of alternating parties in power was pushed slightly ajar?
The first of five days of voting took place this week, and despite 17 people being killed, the Electoral Commission were fairly happy with the day’s voting, featuring a turnout of about 60%. The election will conclude on 13th May with counting on the 16th – the BBC site is here and a handful of polls are here.
Norway is set to go to the polls on 14th September, and Shadsy has kindly emailed me details of the Ladbrokes betting market for the next Prime Minister, with the three frontrunners being Stoltenberg evens, Solberg 7/4 and Jensen 7/2, with 20/1 bar. The full market is available here and election background, including polls, is available here – but will “The Magic Sign” be doing a market for next PM in India – what price Rahul Gandhi or Mayawati?