SA heading for coalition after 2024 election, analysts say

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress risks losing its majority in this year’s elections, but should be able to form a governing coalition with smaller parties rather than having to enlist its main rivals, a survey of political analysts shows.

Support for the ANC is expected to drop to 48%, from 57% five years ago, according to the median estimate of 14 analysts canvassed by Bloomberg between January 26 and February 2, with just two forecasting that the party will win more than half the vote. The main opposition Democratic Alliance is expected to garner 22% backing, and the populist Economic Freedom Fighters — currently the third-largest party — 12.5%.

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Founded in 1912, the ANC has ruled since White-minority rule ended in 1994. Its reputation took a hammering during President Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule, which was marred by endemic corruption and the collapse of key state institutions.

While the ANC forced Zuma to step down in 2018, his successor Cyril Ramaphosa has struggled to tackle widely pervasive poverty and unemployment, end crippling power cuts and stamp out graft — factors that are expected to cost it support.

“I think the ANC will be able to cobble together a desperate coalition. The ANC’s electoral support is in free-fall, but it still has the biggest electoral machine of any organization in the country. It can therefore do a lot in terms of getting out the vote, but even that machinery cannot cope with the level of government failures and scandals that are drawing people away from the ANC. — Lukhanyo Vangqa, independent analyst.

The election must be held by August, although a date has yet to be announced.

Most of the analysts emphasized that campaigning is still at an early stage and the outlook could change as the vote draws nearer. Their predictions of the outcome are broadly in line with those of several recent opinion polls.

 “It is impossible to say at the moment what the percentage breakdown will be, because a lot will be determined by how many voters turn out on election day.” — Zwelethu Jolobe, head of the University of Cape Town’s political studies department.

If the ANC does win slightly less than half the vote, potential partners include the GOOD party, whose leader Patricia de Lille serves as tourism minister in Ramaphosa’s cabinet, the Patriotic Alliance and Al Jama-ah.

The DA has entered into an alliance known at the Multi-Party Charter with 10 rivals, including the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Freedom Front Plus and Action SA, and they all agreed they won’t work with the ANC or the EFF. It’s unclear whether any of them might renege on that commitment should their leaders be offered cabinet posts and other positions.

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“If the ANC had to lose an outright majority, it will still, more than likely, be the party with the largest percentage and the most number of seats in parliament. Who they would ask to join them would depend on how far away from an overall majority they are.” — Sanusha Naidu, analyst at the Institute for Global Dialogue.

The EFF, which was founded in 2013 by Julius Malema, a former leader of the ANC’s youth wing, would be in contention for a power-sharing deal should support for the ruling party drop significantly below 50%. The EFF has had a fractious relationship with Ramaphosa, but it has co-ruled with the ANC in some municipalities.

“The worst case for the ANC would be if they drop to 45%. Then they would have to invite one of the larger opposition parties to join them in government. The question is who? I think it would probably be the Inkatha Freedom Party, because both are nationalist in outlook and their policies are broadly similar.” — Melanie Verwoerd, independent analyst.

Zuma is a wild card in the election. In December, he announced he’ll campaign for the newly formed uMkhonto WeSizwe party and last month the ANC suspended him from its ranks. The former president remains popular in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal and his defection may cost the ANC votes.

Ramaphosa has dismissed suggestions that the ANC will lose its majority, saying those who predict that it will don’t understand South African politics.

“There is truly so much flux, and especially with the uncertainty around Jacob Zuma and the uMkhonto WeSizwe party and whether they will be inflicting damage on the ANC. That is a major impacting factor. As it stands, it’s likely that the ANC can either just get its political claws over the 50% mark or will just need the top-up support of one or two or three small parties.” — Susan Booysen, director of research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.

© 2024 Bloomberg

Harry Byrne

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