CAPE TOWN - The Democratic Alliance (DA) is again heading for an internal battle, this time over a proposal to tweak the rules of the party's selection progress for candidates for elected office in a manner that would give more power to provincial leaders.

As the official opposition party heads to the quarterly meeting of its federal council meeting at the weekend, senior party figures have drafted a formal objection to the proposal put forward by the long-standing chairman of the federal executive, James Selfe, to allow provincial leaders or candidates for that position to sit in on the deliberations of the DA's selection panels.

At present, they only get an opportunity to address the selection panels before the deliberations begin, in terms of a clause which reads: "Such leader(s) and/or candidate may, on this occasion, specify his, her or their perspective on the requirements of the relevant caucus as far as racial and gender diversification, expertise and geographic spread is concerned".

The letter, signed by 34 high-ranking DA members, contends that allowing provincial leaders to be present for the actual decision-making would make them all powerful in the selection process and engender factionalism. 

"Provincial leaders already have significant influence in the red flagging of candidates, in nominating members of the selection panel, in being members of electoral colleges, in editing the final lists, in addressing the selection panels, and as candidates whose election in the number one slot is guaranteed," wrote the group who called themselves "concerned delegates" to the conference and includes DA chief whip John Steenhuisen..

"The addition of the very significant influence and power attached to being a de facto full member of the selection panel would make the provincial leader virtually omnipotent in the candidate selection process, with enormous scope for abuse and patronage.

"We contend that the amendment, as proposed, would make the provincial leaders players, coach, referee, captain and selector, all simultaneously!'

Also among the signatories are MP Natasha Mazzone, the deputy chairwoman of the Federal Council, Ivan Meyer, the party 's deputy federal chairman, Mike Waters, its deputy chief whip, and the leaders of the Western Cape and North West provinces, Bonginkosi Madikizela and Joe McGluwa.

The group noted that the rules expressly forbid the nomination of premiers to the selection panels, and for good reason.

"They are all (presumably) aspirant candidates to the national Parliament or a provincial legislature. They have a demonstrable personal interest in the outcome of the selection process (both as aspirant candidates, and as prospective caucus leaders). And their membership of these selection panels would give rise to conflicts of interest."

One of the signatories told ANA that objections to the amendment were so strong that it had become a "red line issue" within the DA, with those opposed believing it would turn provincial leaders into "godfathers" who could hand pick candidates who would owe them political favours and reinforce their power.

Others said they feared their objections would be cast as a case of "white people" trying to rein in the power of black colleagues in leadership positions.

Steenhuisen said the anticipated criticism was unfounded, as those who signed the letter were trying to protect internal democracy and transparency in the DA.

"I hope this particular proposal is defeated and that we have a process that guarantees that internal democracy is protected and not one that lends itself to factionalism."

Selfe was not immediately available for comment.

He has found himself weakened by the party's failed attempt to dislodge Cape Town's firebrand mayor, Patricia de Lille, from her position.

De Lille took the DA to court and won after it used a contentious new clause in its constitution to tear up her DA membership after a year of open warfare with the party. 

A well placed source he bore responsibility for the handling of the De Lille matter and senior delegates saw the proposed amendment as an attempt to shore up support from provincial leaders, who have for some time been pushing for more input into the candidate selection process.

"It is a pre-emptive strike from James, to acquiesce to them."

The DA's Federal Council meeting in April saw delegates square up over a proposal from party leader Mmusi Maimane to amend its constitution to state it would seek to replicate the country's diversity in its own ranks. 

After strong opposition from delegates who argued that it would shoehorn the party into a system of quotas, a compromise was reached and an amendment adopted that instead committed the party to advancing diversity.

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African News Agency (ANA)