EDITORIAL | Welcome to power, small parties. SA’s fate is now in your hands
This new political landscape’s danger is that minority interests will play too big a role in forging coalitions
The people have spoken in the local government elections, but it’s not at all clear what they’ve just said. The upshot of this is that we will have more hung councils this time round than in 2016, as many as 52, and that in many municipalities no one party has captured the loyalty or allegiance of voters in large enough numbers to serve as an acting majority. Potentially, it is a moment of great danger for SA, especially if one accords with the view that a widespread and growing disillusionment with politics could in the future give rise to populist “saviours’’, who reawaken these sleeper-voters. On the other hand, it is a moment of great potential.
While SA’s constitutionally defined political system is rightly criticised for putting too much power in the hands of party bosses, the inclusion of the proportional representation system in some way compensates for our not having a constituency system, in which representatives have to account to actual voters. When the constitution was written, proportional representation, which is widely used in Europe, was the unspoken sop to minorities, who would nonetheless be governed by a party chosen by a simple democratic majority.
Being South Africans with a disarming ability to explore the unintended use of things generally, proportional representation has been re-engineered and can be harnessed to narrow interests, ranging from the desire of a particular individual to get a public position, to the formation of an organised interest group whose assent may be vital in attaining a majority in a town council with many small parties represented. Their power is disproportionate to their support...