South Africa has some 400 political parties and independent candidates going into the upcoming election year in 2024.
Some political commentators say this is a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth”, or is it the ballot? However, many others believe this is the epitome of a maturing democracy.
The mushrooming of new and untested political parties has made the prospects of coalition politics an immediate reality rather than a distant possibility.
This week, South African voters welcomed the country’s newest political party in the emergence of Roger Jardine’s Change Starts Now party.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says after receiving more than 70 new applications, this is the biggest number of parties the country has ever seen.
Of the 70 new parties that applied so far, only 60 were successfully registered, while 10 were rejected.
Due to this onslaught, ANC Secretary General, Fikile Mbalula was recently quoted as saying, the avalanche of new parties is intended to destabilise the ANC and usher a new form of coalition politics in the country.
This has been seen through the launch of parties such the African Congress for Transformation (ACT) by Ace Magashule, African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (Areta) by Carl Niehaus as well as Rise Mzansi, Xiluva, the South African Rainbow Alliance (SARA) and several political opponents gunning for the minds, and the hearts of the more than 36 million South Africans who are eligible to vote.
These new political offshoots were preceded also by parties such as Mmusi Maimane's Build One SA (Bosa), in September in Soweto, as well as All African Alliance Movement’s (AAAM) which endorsed former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng as its presidential candidate.
Many political commentators have indicated that the upcoming elections will usher a wave of coalition governments.
Speaking to Saturday Star this week, veteran political analyst, Professor Sipho Seepe says more than anything, the dramatic spike in the number of political parties set to contest the upcoming elections is a vote of no confidence against established parties especially the ruling party which has become awash with poor leadership.
“On the surface, the increase in the number of parties is an indictment on the existing parties. It is a motion of no confidence.
“People are realising that these parties have become bogged in fighting each other. In the process, the parties have forgotten the voters,” Seepe says.
During a debate on 702 on the rise of political parties ahead of the elections, political analyst Steven Friedman said there's nothing wrong with having a variety of parties for voters to choose from, provided that those parties have a base among voters that they can mobilise.
“I would argue that if you had political parties amalgamating now they would probably lose support because voters would have less choice than they have at the moment,” he said.
However, Seepe says there is a positive spin to this development saying it is indicative of a maturing democracy.
“On the positive side, this development is an indication of the maturing of our democracy. Ordinary people have decided that they can not continue to outsource their future to big parties. For too long, existing parties have behaved as if they own people. Not anymore,” he said.
The fertile ground for a fierce 2024 have also received another boost by President Cyril Ramaphosa who recently signed into law, an Electoral Amendment Bill which sought to provide for the amendment of the Electoral Act, 1992 (Act No. 73 of 1998) as an effort to give effect to the Constitutional Court judgment that was handed down on 11 June 2020.
When it comes to the negative effects of having too many political parties, Seepe reveals that this will stretch the votes too thin, resulting in wasted votes instead of a strengthening of the ethos of democracy.
“Unfortunately, the mushrooming of small parties would not lead to strengthening democracy. If anything, many votes will be wasted due to the high threshold required to earn a seat in government...Voters are better to realise that having many parties will result in spreading their votes too thin. Some of the votes are likely to be wasted,“ he said.