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
9 January 2012

The ANC’s centenary celebrations and internal party democracy

The African National Congress (ANC) celebrated its 100th birthday this weekend with such revolutionary pursuits as a golf day and a prayer service. At the end of a huge mass rally on Sunday Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe proposed a toast and told the (by then half-empty) stadium that if they did not have champagne, they could take photographs of their leaders drinking, or raise clenched fists. “The leaders will now enjoy the champagne, and of course they do so on your behalf through their lips,” he said.

The ANC has a lot to celebrate and feel proud about (especially about its past), but the quality of its current leaders drinking champagne on that stage (and, directly related to this) the manner in which such leaders are elected, are not part of that which the organanisation can feel proud of. No wonder President Jacob Zuma announced that “the ANC will renew its internal systems and processes in order to prepare and produce new generations of leadership for our country, whose integrity and passion to serve our country is unquestionable”.

The same noises about changes to the internal election procedures of the ANC were made four years ago and nothing came of it, but there is surely an urgent need to address the manner in which party leaders are elected in the ANC – and given recent problems with internal party elections in the Democratic Alliance (DA), also in that political party – to make these processes more democratic and to try and insulate the processes from corruption and the influence of money.

This is important not only for the health of the ANC (and other political parties like the DA) but also for our democracy as a whole. Given the fact that our pure proportional representation electoral system does not allow us to directly elect any public representatives at the national or provincial levels (we can only vote for a party, never for a person), the Mandarins at Shell House might want to consider amendments to the process of electing leaders that would make such elections more transparent and bring them more in line with the democratic values of openness, accountability and transparency set out in the founding provisions of our Constitution.

However, neither the ANC nor the DA had shown an appetite before for developing binding legal rules to force political parties to adhere to minimum standards of internal democracy.  A few years ago when I suggested at an Idasa event that our Parliament should adopt a political party law that regulates the funding of political parties as well as prescribes minimum requirements for internal party democracy for the election of leaders and of representatives to our various legislatures, the then DA Chief Whip, Douglas Gibson, was not amused and accused me of wanting to impose a North Korean style system on South Africa.

Instead of starting to cry like a North Korean, I wrote the following email to Mr Gibson the next day which remains pertinent for this debate:

Last night at the Idasa event on the working of Parliament I asked whether political parties in South Africa would be prepared to consider the adoption of a party law that would, inter alia, regulate the way in which candidates are selected to stand for public office. You replied that this was unacceptable and never happens in any democracy – “only in countries like North Korea”. I thought it might be interesting for you to know that many countries do have party laws, including Germany, Argentina, Mexico, South Korea and as far as I can tell at least 40 others.

In Germany Article 17 of the Party law of 1967 (last amended in 1994) states that: “The nomination of candidates for election to all levels of government must be by secret ballot. The nomination procedure shall be as prescribed by the electoral laws and party statutes.”

Article 21 of the electoral law further regulates the matter as follows:

“(1) A person may only be named as a candidate of a party in a constituency nomination if he or she has been elected for this purpose at a members’ assembly convened to elect a constituency candidate or at a special or general delegates’ assembly. A members’ assembly convened to elect a constituency candidate shall be an assembly of members of the party who at the time of their meeting are eligible to vote in the German Bundestag election in their constituency. A special delegates’ assembly shall be an assembly of the delegates elected by such an assembly of members from their own ranks. A general delegates’ assembly shall be a general assembly appointed in accordance with the statutes of the party (Article 6 of the Law on Political Parties) by such an assembly of members from their own ranks in view of forthcoming elections.

… (5) Further details regarding the election of delegates for the delegates’ assembly, the convening and the quorum of the members’ or delegates’ assemblies as well as the procedure for the election of the candidate shall be set forth in the parties’ statutes.

 (6) A copy of the record of the election of the candidate, with details of where and when the assembly took place, the form of the invitation, the number of members present and the result of the ballot shall be submitted with the constituency nomination. In so doing, the chairperson of the assembly and two members present designated by it shall give the District Returning Officer an assurance in lieu of an oath to the effect that the election of the candidate was by secret ballot. The District Returning Officer shall be responsible for accepting such an assurance in lieu of an oath; he shall be considered an authority within the meaning of Article 156 of the Penal Code.

Your assertion regarding North Korea was therefore slightly off the mark.

These provisions illustrate that legislation may well be adopted in a democracy (especially one with some form of proportional representation electoral system) to set minimum standards and criteria for the election of party representatives in the various legislatures, but leaves it open to each political party to arrange their elections in accordance with their own character and traditions within the confines of these minimum standards. There is nothing that prevents such a law also from applying to the election of party leaders.

Such a law will have little effect, however, if it does not regulate the funding of the internal election campaigns of party leaders and if it does not require transparency in the funding of such campaigns and if it does not prohibit influence buying by large corporations or unscrupolous individuals trying to land huge government tenders.

To this day we do not know who financed Jacob Zuma’s campaign to be elected President of the ANC. Was this campaign funded by thousands of small donations by ANC members eager to see the back of Thabo Mbeki, or was it funded by people like the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya or by Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (as some rumours would have it)? Did Roux Shabangu or other tenderpreneurs contribute to this campaign and was Jacob Zuma beholden to these financiers when he eventually became President? Did the Gupta’s have any role in financing President Zuma and his campaigns and if so, what were they hoping to get out of it?

We simply do not know answers to these questions because there are absolutely no legal rules that bind political parties and potential leaders in those parties to reveal the sources of funding used for either internal leadership campaigns or for political party electoral campaigns in general.

If the ANC is serious about renewing its internal systems of leadership elections and if it wishes to become more democratic and to empower ordinary ANC members to have a more decisive say in leadership elections, it will have to address the influence of money on such elections as a priority and will also open up leadership contests and debates to general scrutiny and debate (as has been suggested by Julius Malema). One way of doing so is by passing a law that prescribes minimum criteria for such elections in the manner similar to that applicable in Germany.

Will the ANC bite the bullet and address this elephant in the room? My guess is that too many people with too much money and power have too much to lose from a change in the rules and from a legally enforced transparent system of leadership and public representative elections. But who knows, maybe the ANC will be overcome with a sudden attack of principle and will do the right thing after all. Or maybe a majority of ANC leaders will not act in a principled way but will nevertheless realsie that opening up leadership elections will weaken the incumbent President and his campaign for a second term and will proceed to do the right thing for the wrong reasons?

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