Elections 2021: The need for a Constitutional review in the aftermath of the elections
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OPINION: There should be a cap on the number of political parties and independent candidates. Secondly, the party with the highest number of seats should form a government. Small parties should not be allowed to dictate terms since this negates democratic principles, writes Professor Bheki Mngomezulu.
Since 1994, the number of political parties has shown an upward trajectory in each election. In the 2021 local government elections, this number has reached an unprecedented high. The same goes for the number of independent candidates. Even before this election, it was a foregone conclusion that the number of hung municipalities would be the highest compared to previous elections.
This proved to be true as 66 municipalities nationally had no outright winner thus paving the way for coalition governments. Several political parties stated emphatically that they would not work with the ANC. These included: ActionSA, FF+ and the DA. The EFF tried to engage the ANC on a possible coalition. Unfortunately, these discussions failed.
The IFP stunned many when it announced that it was prepared to work with the ANC in other provinces except KwaZulu-Natal. In principle, there was nothing illegal about this decision.
However, it did not make political sense. If the ANC did not deserve cooperation with the IFP in KZN, why would these parties cooperate in other provinces? One answer I could infer was that the IFP was positioning itself for the 2024 national and provincial government election so that it could reclaim KZN from the ANC. The IFP shared other reasons through the media.
What invokes a discussion on the need for a Constitutional review is not the IFP’s decision, which did not contravene any law. Instead, there are two factors that have necessitated this piece. The first one has to do with the number of political parties that keep increasing in every election. The second factor is what leaders of political parties and independent candidates have been doing since the election results were announced. In particular, my primary focus is on Chapter 2 Section 19 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa on political rights.
Under 1(a), the Constitution states that every citizen is free to make political decisions, which includes the right (a) to form a political party and to campaign for it. With regards to independent candidates, 3(b) states that every adult citizen has the right “to stand for public office, and, if elected, to hold office.”
With these Constitutional imperatives in place, it is impossible to stop the mushrooming of political parties. Similarly, it is not possible to stop individuals from availing themselves to stand for public office. It is as a result of this section of the Constitution that the local government elections had such a high number of political parties and independent candidates.
One point is worth mentioning here. Our Constitution was crafted at a particular political context. Those who were tasked to draft it had to be mindful of the sad history of South Africa and to consider the politics of the 1990s. In the process, certain decisions were taken which have unfortunately come back to haunt us as a nation.
It is within this context that people have been calling for the return of capital punishment (the “death sentence”) in certain cases. Capital punishment was stopped because the apartheid government was using it as a political tool to eliminate those who were fighting the oppressive system, not because it cannot be used in a democracy. The fact that countries like Botswana and America are democracies but still use capital punishment means that the argument about capital punishment being undemocratic cannot be sustained.
But my focus here is not necessarily on that subject. I am concerned about the impact of having so many political parties and independent candidates in our electoral system. This undermines the very same democratic principles we aim to uphold. The recent election has proven beyond doubt the danger we face as a country by not having a cap on the number of political parties and independent candidates, which makes coalitions impossible.
By their nature, coalitions do not contribute to democratic consolidation. The electorate vote for party A and not party B. Some do so based on the party’s manifesto. Others vote for the party for many other reasons, which include loyalty to the party. After an election, party leaders go into a coalition with the party the electorate deliberately did not vote for. When coalition discussions are held, the electorate is not consulted.
Another undemocratic practice is that a party with one or two seats demands a mayoral position or that of a municipal manager. Some independent candidates do the same thing. This undermines the will of the people.
Given this context, the time is ripe to consider a Constitutional review. There should be a cap on the number of political parties and independent candidates. Secondly, the party with the highest number of seats should form a government. Small parties should not be allowed to dictate terms since this negates democratic principles.
* Mngomezulu is professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.