Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - South African elections

The South African election results were interesting.

Like many Australians, I knew so little about the political landscape that I wrote South Africa - political parties and the 2004 elections just to set a small benchmark for future reference. I am glad that I did.

Looking back at that post, a few things stood out.

The first was the dominance of the ANC. In 2004 it scored 69.69% of the vote, up 3.34%, gaining 279 seats (up 13) in the 400 seat National Assembly.

The second was the plethora of parties with at least one seat, no less than twelve. This made it very difficult to create a credible opposition.

The Democratic Alliance, the official opposition, received 12.37% of the vote and 50 seats at the 2004 elections, followed by the Inkatha Freedom Party on 6.97%  of the vote and 28 seats. Compared to the election before, the Alliance increased its share of the vote by 2.81%, adding 12 seats, while Inkatha's vote slipped by 1.61%, losing 6 seats.

This year's South African elections attracted global interest because of the presence of Jacob Zuma - he is simply an interesting figure, regardless of what one thinks about him. It also attracted attention because of the emergence of the Congress of the People (COPE) as a break-away from the ANC triggered by the treatment of Thabo Mbeki. Could COPE cope by defeating the ANC?

As an outsider, this always seemed unlikely. It is very hard in a practical sense to defeat a powerful incumbent.

To my mind, these elections represented a further maturation in the South African political process. They were free and fair with huge voter turn-out. They also marked, I think, a further consolidation in the South African political system. I am writing here with care because I am conscious of my own lack of knowledge. 

The overall party votes can be found here.

The ANC proportion of the national vote declined to 66.11%, reversing the gains made at the 2004 election. This is still a remarkably high result, considering the in-fighting that had occurred. The ANC's provincial vote was a little less at 65.13%.

COPE did not do as well as it had hoped, coming in third with 7.46% of the national vote, 7.39% of the provincial vote. Still, this will give it a base.

The big winner was the Democratic Alliance with 16.37% of the national vote, 16.57% of the provincial vote. While this percentage is still dwarfed by the ANC, it is still a good result considering that that the DA had less than 10% of the vote prior to the 2004 elections. Importantly, the DA won the provincial elections in Western Cape, giving it a base in Government.

The increase in the DA vote plus the new COPE vote came partly from the ANC, more from other smaller parties and especially from the Inkatha Freedom Party whose share of the national vote dropped from 6.97% to 4.59%.  In KwaZulu-Natal, Inkatha's former heartland, the Party was trounced by the ANC.

This suggests that the while losing votes in some areas, the ANC still gained in others. Jacob Zuma seems to have done well in appealing to Zulu patriotism without alienating other groups. 

Counting continues, so final results may vary somewhat.

It will be interesting to see the final geographic support for the various parties. For example, COPES' longer term position is likely to be influenced by its final position in the various provincial parliaments.

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