By Anees Teladia
As South Africans eagerly await the final announcements of the 2019 national and provincial election results, one political analyst has pointed to the fragmentation of political parties in South Africa. Speaking to VOC at the IEC Results Operation Centre in Century City on Friday, research specialist and academic, Sanusha Naidu views the number of political parties contesting elections as deeply concerning given the amount of youth who remained unregistered. Naidu also views the amount of parties contesting as a “mockery” of our multi-party democratic system and as testing the very limits of the system.
“How do you manage 48 political parties? From a technical perspective, the ballot paper was probably three pages long at the national level,” said Naidu.
“The challenge for me [regarding the amount of political parties contesting], is what does this mean in terms of a political landscape that becomes scattered within the context of what’s happening in the country?”
“When we look at the national level, we see political parties just barely making it at 1900 votes. Now, you spend R200 000 to contest a national election and perhaps if you’ve contested a provincial election it’s about between R48 000 and R50 000 per province – which is non-refundable. You only get refunded if you get a seat in either the provincial legislature or national assembly…”
Naidu said that the money spent by many of the smaller political parties – with a negligible number of votes – in an effort to contest elections both nationally and provincially, was essentially wasted. She also argues that these parties are harming our democracy by discouraging participation through their recent actions and claims regarding the legitimacy of elections – due to what might just be a case of “sour grapes”.
According to Naidu, the strain on the IEC is unreasonable.
“This is a joke [the amount of smaller parties with negligible votes], it’s a mockery! We’re supposed to be taking this seriously. We’re in a very critical period of our democratic governance. We want young people to come out and vote, yet this is what we’re seeing? Then [small political parties] going on the stage at the IEC Results Operation Centre and contesting the way the IEC runs things, questioning the legitimacy of vote counting…”
She said this painted a negative picture of the electoral process to young people, who would in turn question the integrity and legitimacy of the IEC and the entire voting process.
“The IEC has had its own internal problems, but the challenge is when you realise that you have 48 parties – the impact of contestation for power is much greater on the IEC. I don’t see how this works out,” she stressed.
“If you’re getting 2500 votes nationally, with the proportion spent you’ve basically wasted people’s money and you need to be held accountable.”
When asked why there are so many political parties contesting elections and what the solution to this perceived problem might be, Naidu suggested that the problem stems from the IEC regulations around political parties and said that the commission could become more “stringent”.
“I think we need more than just a monetary criterion which essentially means that if you can make monetary cut-off, you can contest.”
“Of the 48 national parties, 18 of them had election manifestos that the IEC put on their website. I think the IEC can be more stringent. I think the IEC can say that they want to see your party constitution and the signatures that constitute your dynamics, to become a political party…to be a political party we need to see an election manifesto.”
“Perhaps it’s ego that drives all these small parties, thinking because it’s within their rights, they can [and should] contest.”
Naidu added that political parties should not be fooled into overestimating their support base due to the size of their pre-election rallies. She also indicated that she suspects political opportunism in the system.
“I’m finding this election has almost become a caricature and is taking multi-party democracy to a questionable height…there’s a lot of self-interest going on.”