More parties, more democracy?

Douglas Gibson

Douglas Gibson

Published Mar 13, 2024


Douglas Gibson

Did you know that South Africa has 1 794 registered political parties? Some 1 414 of them are registered at the municipal level, while 380 are recognised at the national one.

Does this promote democracy, or merely confuse the voters, while at the same time flattering the vanity of hundreds of one-man band leaders, their dogs and their mothers?

Potentially, we could have all the established parties plus several hundred others plus independent candidates on the ballot paper. A two- or three-page ballot paper would, without doubt, confuse many voters and slow down both voting and the eventual counting of ballots.

Fortunately, there are some requirements that independents and parties with no representatives in Parliament or the provincial legislatures must meet.

Independents must obtain 1 000 signatures before being allowed to contest the elections. New parties must obtain 15% of the seat quota in the previous election. This translates into about 15 000 signatures for the national list, about 13 000 for a regional to national list seat, and fewer for the provincial legislatures. This number is reduced for smaller provinces, going down to 1 919 for a provincial legislature seat in the Northern Cape. Surely this is not too onerous for any serious party or individual to attend to?

Roger Jardine, who formed his own party in December, proclaimed that he was available to be the president of South Africa. Instead of being laughed off the political stage at the outset, he was taken seriously by important business people, very wealthy donors, and the mainstream media, reflected in two weeks of wall-to-wall coverage in the Sunday Times. And then nothing.

He has now withdrawn himself and his party from the election. What an ignominious end to a budding political career. He should have joined a party like the DA, whose policies mirror his, apart from his proposal to increase taxation dramatically. He has a contribution to make and should now join the DA and get some relevant experience in a modern political organisation. He would receive a warm welcome. Perhaps in the future he can play an important role in the party.

What many political amateurs believe is that if they have good ideas and a fresh face, someone else (but who?) will do the hard graft of mounting the ground battle to get the party established so that it can canvass millions of voters, put up hundreds of thousands of posters, and man 23 000 polling stations for the special voting and election days.

I have had experience in politics since 1950 in the UP, and of building a new party dating back to 1975. The Reform Party, the PRP, the PFP, the DP and the DA in succession struggled mightily to get where they are today.

In 1994, the DP obtained 1.7% of the vote. Today, the DA should poll at about 26% and, together with its partners in the coalition known as the Multi-Party Charter, could poll above 36% – matching the ANC and ending the hegemony of the failing and ailing ruling party. The era of coalition politics has arrived.

All wannabe political leaders must learn that it takes an enormous amount of hard work, years of effort and, above all, staying power to attract and retain the support of the voters.

Failing that, most voters know that voting for a new party is a waste of a vote. Several hundred party leaders and many Independents will wake up to the reality of failure the day after the election. And many voters will know they wasted their vote and perhaps lost the opportunity to change South Africa for the better.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand.

The Star