Electoral Commission vice-chairperson Terry Tselane says the country needs an independent body to regulate a coalition government next year to avoid the prospect of governance being held to ransom by political bickering.
Tselane pointed out that the days of one dominant party in South Africa are numbered and that next year’s election could bring with it a national government of unity, similar to the one of the early days of democracy.
“The government of national unity is a serious possibility because of the gradual decrease of the ANC’s share of the vote. There is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that increasingly, not only in South Africa but also on the continent, you are not going to have a situation of one dominant party. So, political parties are going to have to start learning to work together.”
Tselane, whose term ends in November, was critical of how coalitions were managed.
He described them as a marriage of convenience often marred by chaos with little understanding from partners on what they are supposed to do other than to elect a mayor and staff.
This comes a week after he expressed anxiety about next year’s elections being run mostly by inexperienced officials.
The country should learn from other countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden.
“When you look at the Nordic countries, they have been under coalitions since the World War 2 and yet their coalitions are able to deliver to their communities. You have stable communities with services being rendered. What you need here is a situation in which you can begin to help political parties to understand what it means to be part of a coalition government and not see it as a threat.”
Tselane warned a lot could go wrong in the absence of a body tasked to regulate coalition governments and ensure delivery continues unhindered.
“You need a neutral party altogether that is going to mediate. You are dealing with a coalition government and conflict resolution in one. So everyone must be a signatory to this agreement in the same way we dealt with the Convention for a Democratic SA.
“You need mechanisms at localised level, provincial and national. In this way residents are not held to ransom by politics because it is the people who vote for you who suffer when you fight,” he said.
“The current agreement between parties that co-govern is not seriously considered or even researched; there is no methodology on how you make coalitions work. There is an academic approach that is lacking. To wait and hope that the government is going to collapse is really not useful to the constituencies who elected you.”
For Tselane, what was required in all the areas governed through coalitions was a clear plan outlining priorities and mechanisms to achieve those targets.
“Currently, the courts are the only arm dealing with disputes and it has become apparent that this has overburdened the judicial systems and sooner or later cracks are to going to begin to show.”
All of this highlights the growing and urgent need for the establishment of a structure or capacity to assist coalitions (and potentially political parties) in resolving disputes, managing conflict and focusing on service delivery that characterises the body politic of South African society,” he said.
The DA’s relationship with its most significant coalition partner, the United Democratic Movement, and the Economic Freedom Fighters nearly collapsed the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality this year as leaders fought over issues, such as corruption.
Things were so heated the fights turned physical and the municipality was on the brink of being put under administration due to several walkouts in protest against what was described as an anti-poor budget.
The EFF has also put Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba and Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga on notice.
Similar scenes have played out in other municipalities that were hung during the local government elections in 2016.
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