Hard choices as the horse-trading begins
Johannesburg - Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, Beaufort West, Tshwane and Rustenburg are only a few of the two dozen municipalities that face two weeks of uncertainty as political parties jostle to form governing coalitions.
With the dust settling on the local government elections, a clearer picture is emerging of what could happen in municipalities with hung councils. Coalitions, and even minority governments, have become a necessity for at least 26 councils.
A minority government is formed if no party is able to receive the 50 plus one percent required to lead the council and the biggest party tries to govern without a coalition.
This inherently unstable scenario is on the cards for the first time in our democracy.
In Tshwane, the opposition DA won 93 seats and the ANC 89. The EFF has 25, putting the youngest and third-largest party in a powerful position as kingmaker.
If the DA finds the prospect of partnering the EFF intolerable, it will have to attempt to rule without a junior partner and rely on gaining enough opposition support to pass measures in the council.
Professor Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, says minority governments should be able to govern this way for their full term.
However, a vote of no confidence could bring them down at any time - so, too, could an inability to pass a budget.
“They can pass budgets if they persuade a majority of councillors to support them. They would have to make deals with other parties.
“If opposition parties think they can win an election, they will vote out the minority government. If they decide they cannot, they may choose to let the biggest party govern but try to make sure they get the decisions they want.”
The DA and the ANC will therefore probably do everything in their power to avoid minority governance.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has said repeatedly talks are under way with other parties to achieve the numbers his party needs.
The ANC, however, has said coalitions are “tactical marriages of convenience” and it could not enter a coalition with the DA.
The kingmakers are the EFF and the smaller parties.
The United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa, who confirmed he had been approached by the DA, said coalition talks had nothing to do with ideology but were about serving the people.
He said listening to the voices of the people on the ground would be a crucial factor for the party in considering entering any partnerships.
“We have a principle that we adopted years ago. If we are to go into a coalition, we judge the mood on the ground and the wish of the voters.”
The UDM assisted the DA in 2006 when it did not have enough seats to govern in Cape Town.
The IFP’s deputy national chairman, Albert Mncwango, said: “We are open-minded, we don’t want the situation where a party is rejected by people and then we bring them in through the back window.”
Compromise will play a crucial role, with parties negotiating on the principles and promises made to their voters.
Julius Malema has warned that the EFF will not compromise on its manifesto if the DA comes knocking.
EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told the African News Agency yesterday: “People are talking about talks, but no formal negotiations are taking place. Everyone is warming upâ€¦ remember we have been at each other’s throats since the birth of the EFF.”
The EFF has said repeatedly it would not forge a coalition with the ANC, but on Friday Malema refused to rule out the possibility.
“We pointed out very clearly (that) while not prepared to speak to ANC or enter any coalition with the ANC, we cannot close our ears when spoken to by anyone,” he said.
His conditions were clear, and boiled down to one question: “How will the African child benefit?”
The EFF may have to adapt its stance depending on the numbers in each city. While the DA has 43 percent of the vote in Tshwane and could benefit from an EFF partnership, an alliance between them would not achieve a majority in Johannesburg, where the DA trailed the ANC 44-40 percent.
Parties have two weeks to form new local governments.