OPINION: Electoral humbug

In just one week, the nation goes to the polls to elect a new government.

Some time on Thursday May 9, we will know finally who is going to be running the show for the next five years.

Having said that, no crystal ball is needed to broadly sketch the probable lie of the political landscape.

The ANC will get a majority in the National Assembly, the DA will come in as the official opposition, and the EFF will finish a short head behind the DA.

In 2014, 13 parties polled enough votes to end up in the National Assembly, but if the scaremongering by the DA works, that number will shrink, and a core value of our proportional representation (PR) electoral system – legislative representation of minority interests – will have been completely undermined.

The blatantly dishonest postulation that a vote for a small minority party is a wasted vote, a key component of the DA’s campaign in the run up to polling day, is designed to shore up the party’s flagging fortunes in the face of a successful charm offensive by the ANC’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the ongoing fallout over the calamitously handled “De Lille Matter”.

There are 400 seats in Parliament. For every 0.25% of the votes cast that a party gets in the national election, it gets a single seat. The African People’s Convention (APC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), for example, each have a single seat.

The DA would have us believe that casting your vote for the PAC or the APC would be a wasted vote. By extention, so too would be casting your vote for the Capitalist Party (ZACP) or Black First Land First (BLF), or any of the many other small parties registered at national level, all of which have paid the requisite deposit and satisfied the requirements of the Electoral Act to appear on the ballot paper.

And the reason why we should vote for the DA instead of “wasting” our votes on a smaller minority party? To keep the supposedly unholy alliance of the ANC and the EFF at bay.

The DA’s campaign is insidious, replete with unsolicited spam SMS messages and pre-recorded mobile phone calls from DA candidates, urging one vote for the DA (rather than a smaller party), reminiscent of American ambush style election tactics.

The DA knows that it will not unseat the ANC in Parliament, and in the unlikely event that the ANC does poll below 50%, it desperately wants to be the lead party in a governing coalition which excludes the ANC, but that is a pipe dream. If there is to be a national governing coalition, it will most likely be the ANC and the EFF, which will realise the DA’s greatest fear.

Whether people vote for a smaller party or the DA, will make zero difference to that outcome. If the DA wants to depose the ANC, it will have to take a great many votes away from the ANC, and that is just not going to happen.

But while the DA’s fear-mongering tactics are unlikely to significantly alter the balance of power in the National Assembly, they could have serious consequences.

If the APC, for example, does not win a seat in the National Assembly on May 8, we will lose the redoutable Themba Godi, the chairperson of the critically important parliamentary standing committee on public accounts. Under his stewardship, this committee has relentlessly highlighted reckless and irregular expenditure – blatant wasting of our tax rands – at all levels in government for the past 13 years.

But it is at provincial level that the DA is really desperate.

“The ANC will do anything to win the WC. Don’t waste your vote on a small party, vote DA to keep the ANC&EFF coalition of corruption out. Reply STOP to opt out” reads the SMS on many mobile phones, one of many sent in the last few weeks.

Retaining the Western Cape is not only a matter of pride for the DA, it is also symbolically critical to its long-term electoral strategy – win local, win provincial, win national. The setback it suffered in Nelson Mandela Bay when its shaky multi-party coalition collapsed should not be underestimated.

The DA has ruled the Western Cape since the 2009 election, and this time, it has its sights set on Gauteng and the Eastern Cape as well, hence its tactics designed to persuade voters to abandon smaller parties in order to keep a common enemy at bay.

But this tactic could well be self-defeating, particularly at provincial level.

If, as the ANC suggests, it does manage to make significant inroads in the Western Cape, and the DA polls below the 50% mark, the DA will have to either go it alone in a minority government, with all its attendant difficulties, or attempt to form a coalition government. Question is, with whom?

Having vilified as the enemy the EFF, its erstwhile on-off partner in Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane, it will have to climb into bed with one or more of the very minority parties that it has so publicly told the electorate to abandon, in its pursuit of retaining a majority in the Western Cape provincial legislature.

How’s that for being hoist on your own petard?

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