Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
2 October 2008

Motlanthe an inspired (election) choice?

In the absence of credible opinion polls (as opposed to the incredibly misleading opinion poll published in the Sunday Crimes last Sunday ) only a fool would confidently make a prediction about next years general election results.  In the previous election some analysts predicted that the ANC would lose support and that the DA would dramatically increase their support – but this turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

The same talking heads once again started wondering aloud whether the ANC support in the next election may not drop dramatically because of the ANC infighting and because of unhappiness among especially female voters of all races, with Jacob Zuma’s perceived sexism.

But these predictions are based on two very problematic assumptions, namely that many people who are unhappy with the ANC would actually stay at home or vote for one of the opposition parties and that traditional opposition voters would continue to go to the polls and vote in the same numbers as in previous elections.

Some political scientists – pointing to trends in other post-colonial countries in Africa and elsewhere,- cautions that even where the electorate in such countries lose faith in the party of liberation, they seldom immediately vote for another party because for them party affiliation is less about policies and more about identity. What usually happens, they say, is that in a one party dominant system with a strong liberation party in government, people who are disaffected often just stop voting.

They feel that voting will not change anything, so they just sit at home and complain. This effects not just the governing party supporters but also opposition supporters. What usually happens then is that far fewer people go to the polls but that the majority party often increases its percentage share of the vote – even when far fewer people vote for them.

Often, a liberation party can then manage to garner between 70-80% of the vote at the polls, despite the fact that they only get 30-40% support from eligible voters. The same thing might well happen at the next election in South Africa with the ANC increasing its percentage of the vote, despite the fact that they receive far fewer votes than before.

Who knows if this is also what would have happened if the ANC had limped into the next election deeply divided with an unpopular sitting President and a deeply flawed Presidential candidate? Would many  disgruntled South Africans really have voted for the ragtag of opposition parties? But maybe the  firing of Thabo Mbeki and the selection of Kgalema Motlanthe as caretaker President will turn out to be quite an inspired electoral move on the part of the ANC.

Unless the disgruntled ANC members form a strong and principled opposition party in the next few weeks, many traditional ANC supporters might now feel ready again to support the ANC. Motlanthe seems like a likeable man with a steady hand. He has also fired the Minister of Health and has brought some new blood into the cabinet, which might well inspire many traditional ANC voters not to stay at home.

It makes one feel good about the ANC to read that the new Minister of Health has said she would make HIV/AIDS a top priority. If other new Ministers can also show that they have learnt from past mistakes, this could spell electoral disaster for the DA who might find it difficult to convince its traditional voters that going to the polls would make a difference. With the exception of the Western Cape, where the ANC is not assured of winning, opposition voters might well be the one’s staying at home, and this would bring a crushing victory for the ANC.

It would be ironic if Motlanthe’s selection helps Jacob Zuma to win the next election with an even larger majority than Mbeki did in the previous election. Who knows what will happen in the next few months, but just today I am thinking that by selecting Motlanthe as an interim President the ANC might just have improved their chances of an electoral wipe-out next year.

If I was Helen Zille I would be quite worried about the Motlanthe effect. The only way she can get her supporters to go to the polls is to scare them with “fight b(l)ack” tactics, but this would alienate the black people and white progressives who might have considered voting for her. Maybe, just maybe, Motlanthe will yet be the end of the DA? Not that I am making any predictions. In politics a week is a long time and six months is a lifetime.

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