Reflections on 2014 elections

19th September 2013 By: Aubrey Matshiqi

In the 2009 general election, the African National Congress (ANC) won 11 650 748 votes (65.9% of the vote) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) won 2 945 829 votes, which amounted to 16.66% of the vote. The DA went up by 4.29%, while the ANC went down 3.79% from the previous election. What this means is that the ANC and the DA, combined, won 82.56% of the vote, but the gap between the ANC and the DA was 49.2%, and that between the ANC and the opposition as a whole was 31.8%.

What this means is that the South African electoral space can be characterised in terms of the single-party dominance of the ANC as a ruling party and that of the DA in the opposition space.

This also means that it would take a gargantuan swing and shift in our political and electoral landscape for the ANC to lose power to either the DA or a coalition of opposition parties in 2014. With respect to the ANC, therefore, the only question worth debating is whether the ruling party will succeed in reversing the decline of 2009. And, if it fails, will the trend continue until it loses power at some point? After how many elections would such a point be reached, and what factors would precipitate it?

For the DA, the question is whether it has reached the ceiling within its support base? If it has, is it a glass or concrete ceiling? The difference is between success and failure to increase support among black voters beyond the marginal. Whatever the answers are to these questions, I am convinced that the 2014 elections are not going to deliver a decisive shift in support for the ANC and the DA.

But I am interested in what may happen to the coincidence between race and voting patterns over the next two decades of our democracy. While the variables that will inform the specific content of the coincidence between race and election outcomes will certainly not be static, we must not assume that the only political parties that will be affected negatively or positively by changes in these variables are the DA and the ANC, to the exclusion of others. Such an assumption would be wrong, given the possibility that change may be brought about by changes and events outside the party political space. But shifts in the electoral and party political spaces may be brought about by a combination of internal dynamics in the dominant political forma- tions, such as the tripartite alliance, the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, as well as events such as Marikana and service delivery protests outside the party political space.

The performance of the State and the economy may also be critical in this regard. In short, we should not rule out a future in which shifts in the South African political landscape are informed by a search for alternatives to the political forces that dominate both the party-political and non-party- political spaces at the moment.

Does this mean that there is hope for new entrants, such as Agang and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)? Are there gaps to be exploited in our electoral market?

With respect to Agang and the EFF, the common challenge is that of positioning. Dislodging the ANC at the centre is not going to be easy. Because Agang seems to be going for the space occupied by the ANC and the DA, there are two spaces where it might pick up votes, namely the space vacated (involuntarily) by the Congress of the People and parts of the ANC support base. It is going to be extremely difficult for Agang to dislodge significant support from the DA.

For its part, the EFF is going for those who have nothing to lose because they have nothing. Whether this means that the EFF should be regarded as a formation on the left of our political landscape is another question altogether. That said, the main challenge facing the EFF is to turn the huge interest young South Africans have in politics into higher registration figures and votes, since we cannot rule out the possibility that it is the voter turnout, not the election result, that may be the most talked about statistic of the 2014 elections.

For the ANC, the challenge is to make sure that the turnout does not slide significantly (5% or more) because such a decrease in voter turnout would bring down the participation rate even further and raise questions about the confidence of citizens in the democratic project and the ANC. But I would be surprised if the turnout contracted, given the possibility that the 2014 election will be the most fiercely contested since 1994, and the fact that we will be marking 20 years since the end of white minority rule.