ANALYSIS: Battered DA, louder EFF – see you in parliament, ANC
Can the opposition get behind someone to go against Cyril to overpower a diminished ANC, or does everyone play nicely?
What does a battered and bruised DA and a bigger and louder EFF mean for the political scene now?
While President Cyril Ramaphosa and his soon-to-be-revealed cabinet are the focus after the elections, the newly configured opposition will also have a lot to do with determining the political agenda for the next five years.
In a week, the National Assembly will sit for the first time when the newly minted members of parliament will be sworn in by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. This will also be the day when the speaker and deputy speaker are elected.
Thereafter, the ANC will nominate Ramaphosa for the position of president, which he will, of course, graciously accept.
So how will the opposition respond to this?
Will the DA, still smarting from its poor performance at the polls, sit it out or nominate its leader Mmusi Maimane for the position?
Will the expanded EFF caucus propose Julius Malema as a presidential candidate to show it is ready to take on Ramaphosa from the get-go?
Is it possible for the opposition parties to rally behind one candidate against Ramaphosa as a show of strength against a diminished ANC caucus?
Or does everyone play nicely at the first sitting and let Ramaphosa become president uncontested?
What ultimately happens next week will by no means determine the dynamics in parliament for the next five years, but it will be the first signal of the powerplay and how the two main opposition parties will relate to each other, the ANC and Ramaphosa.
The EFF was a dominant force in the fifth parliament with just 25 out of the 400 MPs making up the red brigade. With its caucus growing to 44 MPs, the EFF now has a greater capacity to assert its agenda and to make its voice heard.
During Jacob Zuma’s presidency, the EFF turned the House into a site of battle, with rallying cries such as “Pay Back the Money!” and “Zupta Must Fall”.
The EFF was forcibly removed several times by parliament’s bouncers, including at state-of-the-nation addresses.
But during Ramaphosa’s first stint as president, it became difficult for the EFF to sustain its rage politics in parliament and had to dial down the volume somewhat.
The election results showed the EFF gained from the ANC’s losses, so to keep that momentum, the party will have to stay in attack mode against the governing party. But if the pre-election flirtations were anything to go by, the EFF could change tactics altogether and enter into a more co-operative relationship with the ANC to advance its agenda on less hostile terms.
Had the ANC lost its majority nationally or in any of the eight provinces it governs, the EFF would have been in the position to negotiate positions in government as part of a coalition agreement.
As things stand, Ramaphosa could still invite the EFF to serve in his government to neutralise hostilities and ensure a more cooperative spirit. Before the election, Malema ruled out cooperation with the DA but left the door open to the ANC.
He also revealed Ramaphosa had previously offered him and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, positions in the executive.
Malema has been known to swing from one position to another, so it is difficult to predict how he will respond to any overtures from Ramaphosa now and how long he will stick to that conviction.
The DA faces a much bigger dilemma in terms of how it will interface with the Ramaphosa government.
Its campaign strategy to wallop Ramaphosa for sitting idly by Zuma’s side during the state capture contagion did not have the desired effect to reduce trust and confidence in the president.
But because Ramaphosa is not Zuma does not mean the official opposition will have a diminished role in parliament. The ANC remains at war with itself, and it remains to be seen whether Ramaphosa will fulfil expectations to exclude disgraced people as well as the dead weight from the cabinet.
As it has been evident in the past 15 months, just because Ramaphosa announces something does not mean the government machinery readily responds.
The bureaucracy is in a state of dysfunction, and corruption and inefficiency have penetrated all layers of government. The mismanagement of government finances is probably the worst indictment on the ANC government.
Parliamentary oversight therefore remains crucial both at national and provincial levels.
The question is whether Maimane is able to regain his footing after the electoral thumping and survive any attempt from within the DA to dislodge him. The DA leader did not appear at a media briefing after a meeting of the party’s federal executive on Monday and is obviously unsettled by the decline in support.
In a letter to DA staff, public representatives, activists and members, Maimane said an “honest assessment” was needed as to why the party failed to achieve its objectives.
“Then we need to make the necessary changes, however tough that might be, so that we can emerge stronger than before,” wrote Maimane.
“As a leader of the DA, I take full responsibility for the outcome of this election. I can honestly and in good conscience state that I did my very best and gave everything of myself in the runup to this election,” he wrote.
It is not clear whether Maimane wants to fall on his sword, or will be able to shake off the beating and continue as leader of the opposition.
To play this role effectively, Maimane needs to contend with an emboldened EFF and Freedom Front Plus in the opposition benches and a less easy target as president.
Maimane may no longer be able to steal the show by haranguing the president with “You are a broken man presiding over a broken society”.
But the country still needs a strong, robust opposition as much as it needs a credible and effective government.
Maimane needs to get his game face back on. Quickly.