Election Watch

South Africa – land of dangerous expectations

Uncertainty will linger
Election 2016 two.jpg

Municipal elections 2016 are finally upon us, the outcomes are highly uncertain and the dangerous flames of already frustrated expectations are stoked high during the campaign period. Expect uncertainty to reign for some time to come.

This election, as it turned out during the campaign, is not in the first instance about who will be your local ward councillor, from which political party, on Thursday 4 August or Friday 5 August – depending on how long the vote counting takes.

The expert analysts, commentators and party leaders or factions within parties – especially so in the case of the ANC – will be adding up the votes nationally and regionally to identify trends and measure the standing of individual party leaders nationally.

In short, this election – again, especially as far as the ANC is concerned – is about the future of President Jacob Zuma as leader of the party and the country and has developed into a curtain-raiser for the national election scheduled for 2019.

In the process, during the election campaign, individual ward candidates have just about become invisible. There is no research or surveys to substantiate it, but I am totally convinced that the vast majority of voters have no idea who the ward candidate is for the area where they live.

Also read: A fool with a golden chain, a fool he remains

                    What rising protests in South Africa say about attitudes towards local government

In the town within the Cape Town metropole where I live, and one week before going to the polling booth, I have not seen a single poster of a ward candidate for any party. Neither am I aware of any letter or pamphlet distributed by any candidate.

Posters, however, of the national leaders of the parties are all over the place. Not even posters of “candidates for the position mayor” were to be seen in our neck of the woods.

Likewise, national leaders have keenly competed with one another for media coverage and used it to punt themselves and their parties – in the proses even out-muscling ‘mayoral’ candidates.

Only in the hotly contested metropolitan areas did mayoral candidates occasionally make it into the mainstream media.

But, take note, nowhere will a mayoral candidate appear on a ballot paper. It is not a position with any official recognition in terms of the election as such. It has developed as a mere marketing tool by political parties.

Voters will not be able to cast an official vote for a mayor per se. They will only vote for the mayor indirectly by voting for a party on the proportional component of the ballot papers and for a candidate of a specific party.

Dangerous expectations

Signs have been building for some time that the frustration of unfulfilled expectations among the majority of the population, based on past political promises, has been rising to a dangerous level and is now threatening social stability.

A number of factors, including the temptations of state capture for material gain, coming with winning positions of political/executive power, have culminated in the violence that has regularly marred the last number of weeks of campaigning.

Often this had much to do with factionalism inside the ANC, but mostly it took the form of service delivery protests. However, last week we saw an example of the ANC apparently using frustrated expectations (created by their own promises, in the first instance) as a weapon against their political opponents.

In Midvaal, just south of Johannesburg, and the only Gauteng municipality controlled by the Democratic Alliance, violent service delivery protests broke out.

The DA mayor of the municipality, Bongani Baloyi, claimed it resulted from a joint ANC/South African Municipal Workers Union conspiracy against the DA administration.

If Baloyi is correct, and wider patterns during the campaign period suggest he may well be, it is an extremely dangerous game the ANC is playing.

It unfortunately also gives an indication of the sort of reaction that can be expected from the party in areas where they might lose control – something that is widely expected.

Voter options

The election, however, also offers voters a number of alternative ways of registering protest.

As we reported last week, the latest indications from opinion surveys are that “the ‘undecideds’ and stay-away voters will be the real ‘kingmakers’”.

Especially the ‘stay-away’ vote factor will be keenly watched by analysts as an indication of a ‘protest vote’.

The system, or legal framework, also offers an interesting option to voters to combine a positive vote for a party (in the proportional component of the ballot) and a ‘stay-away’ vote in protest against the service they have received from the representative who had actually been elected.

I, for one, will be voting for a party of my preference on the proportional (list) ballot, but spoil the candidate ballot, whoever it might be. After all, I do not even know the names of the aspiring candidates – and the election is only a week away!

Wider uncertainties

A time of high levels of uncertainty, especially in the bigger municipalities, can be expected for some weeks after the elections. This comes in the face of a number of factors, including:

  • not knowing how the ANC might react where they lose;
  • the uncertainties and expected turmoil around President Zuma’s future; and
  • the widely expected lack of majorities being won by single parties in some municipalities – particularly in some of the larger metropolitan cities – leading to a period of coalition-forming negotiations among parties.

It might take a while before the full impact of municipal elections 2016 on a number of fronts, including that of national political and social stability, becomes clear.


by Piet Coetzer

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