Now we need bi-partisan politics

Barack Obama.

Who will jump into bed with whom? This is the question on almost everybody’s lips, as political parties strive mightily to craft governing coalitions in four major metros – Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni – where no party polled 50% or more of the vote.

If the demands which the minority parties are presenting to the likes of the ANC and the DA, which variously polled the most votes in each metro, are anything to go by, the chances seem slim that agreement will be reached in all four.

The demands range from giving Jacob Zuma the boot, to releasing political prisoners, to “giving back the land” – and whereas the ANC might be able to but won’t do the first, neither party is in a position to do the last two.

If no agreements are struck – and time is rapidly running out – the parties which polled the most votes in each metro, will have no option but to form minority governments.

Which brings us to the matter of bi-partisan politics, without which it is well nigh impossible for a minority government to make any form of meaningful progress with its service delivery or legislative programmes.

The very nature of a coalition government means that the parties have differing policy perspectives on a variety of issues.

When it comes to a vote on any matter in council, each will have to be negotiated beforehand to avoid defeat, because a minority party member of the coalition chooses to vote against a measure on ideological or policy grounds.

Bi-partisanship means that whereas parties do have differing perspectives on many issues, if the particular proposal on the table will benefit the community as a whole, then it deserves bi-partisan support to ensure its passage and implementation. Partisan bloody-mindedness will do little to ensure that people get the local government that they have a right to expect.

Bi-partisanship presupposes a level of political maturity which seems to escape our local politicians, and that is evident in so much of what happens in our political system, be it at national, provincial or local government level.

It would be foolhardy, however, to assume that this lack of political maturity is limited to youthful democracies like ours.

The land of the free and the home of the brave has come through eight difficult years, where a similar lack of political maturity has hamstrung the legislative agenda of Barack Obama’s administration.

Numerous legislative initiatives have been stymied over the years out of sheer bloodymindedness.

The Republican-controlled (since 2014) Congress has gone out of its way to block bills, not because they have been inherently bad, but because they were initiated by the Democrats under President Obama.

It all goes back to the Affordable Healthcare Act, dubbed ObamaCare, which was intended to overhaul the American healthcare system and bring the estimated 45 million Americans who have no health insurance under its ambit.

The bill was eventually signed into law in March 2010, but not without an Herculean effort by President Obama. It is significant to note, that not one single Republican member of Congress voted in favour of the bill at the time, and in fact the Republican caucus introduced legislation the very next day, to repeal the bill.

It is no secret that Republican lawmakers will automatically vote against any legislation introduced by the Democrats.

If Hilary Clinton is elected in November, she will inherit the poisoned chalice that has stymied so many of President Obama’s initiatives – a Republican-controlled Congress, hostile to any Democrat-sponsored legislation, whether or not it is in the interests of the people.

Back home, political parties of different ideological and policy persuasions are attempting to craft accords which will allow the majority of our metros to function successfully.

The litmus test will be whether or not they can put aside their differences when they get down to the business of delivering to the electorate which put them in office. Let’s hope they do better than one of the oldest democracies in the modern world.