South African elections.
As expected, the ANC emerged as the dominant party. The robustness of political engagement in the country was seen in the following way:
1) Higher voter turn out at the polls compared to the previous two elections.
2) The slightly less than two-thirds majority by the ANC and the marginally lower number of votes cast for the party in eight of the provinces (bt (what is bt?) 10 percent in four of them), the exception being KwaZulu Natal (significance? Is it where Zuma is from?).
3) The higher than expected electoral fortunes of the official opposition party.
4) The demise of some of the smaller parties.
The above demonstrate eloquently the (possibly renewed) interest of our population in participating in democratic exercises and contributing to the ongoing struggle for social transformation. They are positive signs of the health of our democracy, fifteen years into the new dispensation. The elections confirmed that 77 percent of registered voters (number of registered voters that went to the polls?), a high percentage of all adult South Africans, believe that democracy is the way forward for this country and that they are willing to try to make it work and engage in a broad conversation to ensure better policies and politics for the future. This exercise can be seen as a huge plus in ensuring a participatory democracy despite all the foreboding and anxiety generated in recent times. The elections may also represent the beginning of new trends:
· The translation of dissatisfaction into votes.
· A level of comfort with party pluralism in the struggle tradition.
· A break in the hegemony of political discourse.
· An exploration of other creative ways of viewing the political way forward for the country.
The organisation and integrity of elections are important components of a democratic culture. The Independent Electoral Commission carried out its Herculean task professionally and successfully, receiving only13 objections or complaints countrywide. Some of these were quite local and beyond the reasonable expectations of the IEC’s foresight. None included charges of partisan behaviour by officials (The IEC was quick to dismiss workers who were guilty of such behaviour during their preparations leading up to the elections). The high levels of professionalism and the incorporation of the best technology in these processes minimised the possibility of foul play and ensured that these elections represented, freely and fairly, the will of South Africans.
One of the most commented upon aspects of this election was the increase in votes for the official opposition coupled with the demise of smaller opposition parties, especially those based on sectional interests whether racial, cultural or religious. Future democratic processes will reveal whether this election marked the beginning of a new style of opposition politics with opposition parties joining together to advocate around common issues and linking with other civil society organisations to do the same. Considering statements from various political parties, formal all-round coalitions are unlikely at present but a cooperative, issue-based model should be encouraged. A united opposition voice would strengthen the demand for richer public discussion and accountability from government.
The ANC still remains solidly the party of choice, far beyond the numbers of official members, for the bulk of South African voters, especially the poor and black South Africans. This signals credibility in the party’s past, in their present direction and in their role as custodians of the future. Any party that wishes to sway these constituencies would have to espouse similar values, with roots in the nobility of the past struggle and visions of future policies to better the lives of all South Africans. The ANC clearly still has the edge on other parties in these spheres. The party emerged victorious despite the wider choice of parties; the ANC’s publicly-analysed pathologies and limitations; vigorous opposition party campaigns especially around Jacob Zuma’s corruption charges and his moral suitability for leadership; and even in the aftermath of the recent, often acrimonious split in the ANC.
The IEC is already hard at work preparing for the 2011 local elections to ensure that the same high standards are maintained. This is edifying. Still, democracy does not rest alone one’s participation in free and fair elections. It is also strengthened by the institutional arrangements to ensure that a democratic ethos and the spirit of representation is sustained and principles of good governance maintained. Democracy is about people having a meaningful say in the way they live together. A vigilant eye must watch over these subtler but no less important safeguards of democracy.