Election Watch

With election done, on many fronts end games are on

End of an era?

With the votes counted and the results announced in South Arica's municipal election of 2016, a totally new phase in the South Africa’spost-1994 political development has dawned. It comes with end games on a number fronts.

Some of these end games have the potential to take the country to new heights of development, but others also have the potential to plunge it into a downward spiral toward failed-state status.

While the ANC has lost in many areas, including the most prominent large metros, it is premature to simply accept that local government there will be taken over by the Democratic Alliance. Some tough coalition negotiations and deals, some - especially serious economic implications – must still be concluded.

It is important to note that another round credit ratings before the end of the year still lies ahead and some of the rating agencies have already warned that more populist policies may follow on the election results. Fitch warned that the African National Congress (ANC) may steer towards populist policies to try and win back support and said political infighting could also suck the energy out of policy-making.

The most 'in the face' end game has started for the ANC that has dominated the political landscape since1994. This game really started in 2007 at the ANC’s infamous Polokwane elective conference, when ex-president Thabo Mbeki was replaced with Jacob Zuma.

In May last year we analysed how Mbeki at that stage was well on his way to position the ANC’s alliance arrangement for a new phase a of more formal coalition dispensation.

Having missed that opportunity, the ANC alliance has increasingly become victim of factionalism and resultant disintegration.

Jacob Zuma

In the final phases of the campaign, as it became clear that the ANC was in trouble, Mr Zuma, probably with an eye to self-preservation, Zuma adopted a markedly lower profile in public. However, it is unavoidable that internally, with his long list of controversies and scandals much of the blame will be directed his way.

The signs of this are already there as his whish that there should not be coalition talks with the Economic Freedom Fighters, is openly defied by the ANC structures in Gauteng. And talks of a string of ANC internal special meetings, from the National Executive Committee to a special congress, have started.

Zuma has, however, created a wide and strategically placed network of patronage, traversing the whole national household, from the national security network to the SABC as public broadcaster, during his tenure as president. There are a multitude of people and interest groups who are set to lose much if a so-called Zexit is brought about.

In short, expect an intense and dirty battle to develop over the day and weeks to come.

Blame game

In what has become the norm for the ANC, the wider 'blame game, has also started. As the ANC’s operational chief and effective national head of the campaign, secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, has already been targeted by the Zuma faction in especially Gauteng.

Mantashe, in turn, has found it necessary to try and calm the troubled ANC waters by declaring there would be no retribution for either individuals or structures of the ANC for the negative election results, calling the speculation “rumours”.

In the meantime, longstanding ANC stalwarts, like Aziz Pahad, reportedly said there was an urgent need for the total renewal of the party, describing the ANC loss of the Bay as a “huge blow”.

“There were surprises expected,” he said. “But I don’t think the leadership could have expected us to lose the metro. The movement cannot ignore the message we are getting.”

Succession race

There are also clear signs that the race to find a successor for Mr Zuma, with all the tensions and factionalism that comes with it, has started.

In what looks like a deliberate strategic move, his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who kept a remarkable low profile during the campaign period proper, towards the end – as it became clear that things were going seriously wrong for the ANC, came out of the woodwork to project an aura of calm. The ANC "will be rising to the top again", even though people thought it was on its knees, he said as the negative results were pouring in.

Expect the succession battle to also intensify over the weeks to come.

On the broader front

On the broader front, and in the immediate future, the political scene will be dominated by coalition negotiations between both the ANC and the DA with smaller parties and independent councillors, aiming for control over especially the hung metro councils.

In this regard the populist, left-leaning EFF and its unpredictable leader, Julius Malema find themselves in a position of influence far beyond the percentage support they got in the election.

Already there have been mixed signals from Malema and other EFF leaders about whom they will be talking to and under which preconditions. Where they do enter into governing positions as a co-governing party, stable and decisive government is going to be a massive challenge.

The DA did very well in post-2006 Cape Town to build a solid coalition, creating a platform from which they could establish dominance in the Mother City and the wider Western Cape province.

Post-2016 is, however, a totally different kettle of fish and its negotiating skills will be severely tested despite the fact that the biggest shift in support in the election went to the DA with its moderate image,

The reality of the situation is that in the metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, no party won an overall majority and coalition governments appears to inevitable.

It basically boils down to whether the EFF will attach itself to the ANC, or to the DA. However, a coalition of smaller parties partnering with one of the bigger parties, most likely the DA – a la the DA in Cape Town – could also decide the final outcome.

The big positive

The big positive from the election is that has proved the strength of SA’s constitutional institutions and constructs. It showed democracy to be alive and well and went elections went down free and fair and largely peacefully despite some scares in the run-up around nomination battles within the ANC.

In the immediate aftermath of the election the international reaction, especially from the financial markets, were encouragingly  positive – the rand strengthened markedly against currencies like the US dollar and the British pound and the country’s pond market strengthened.

This can, however, all still go wrong badly if the process of coalition-forming in places like Johannesburg does not deliver sober and stable government or if the ANC, in its quest to counter the onslaught from the EFF, abandons conservative monetary and especially fiscal policies and embarks on a populist agenda in the run-up tothe general election 2019.

by Piet Coetzer

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