DA must convince the public that coalitions are good for the country

The DA is yet to convince the country that coalition governments are a viable alternative, given their problematic relationship with coalition partners the UDM and the EFF in Joburg and Nelson Mandela Bay, writes IVIWE ATHENKOSI-MABONA

 The Institute for Government (IFG) in London commissioned a research in May 2011 into the effectiveness of coalition governments as a governing model. The results of that research were telling;  68% of people thought coalition governments create weaker governments, 73% said coalition governments are less decisive and 80% said coalition governments are ‘more confused’.

Two things were further critical from that research. The first one was that the smaller partners in the coalition fail to have any real influence in governing. Secondly, getting positions such as deputies, instead of heading major departments, was unwise; it is difficult to exert any influence in governing whilst sitting in a cabinet without a portfolio.

The coalition circus that has been playing out in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and the City of Joburg is the quintessential example of how weak, indecisive and confused coalition governments can be. The circus has been exacerbated by the Democratic Alliance’s inadequacy to interpret, at least for themselves and their equally inadequate to the task Mayors, just what happened on August 3rd. An ANC loss does not in itself equate to a DA win, and to run a municipality and treat your partners as if you won an election is the source of all the instability in these municipalities.

According to Nicole Beardsworth in her article ‘’Why do opposition coalitions succeed or fail’, the first problem with coalitions is who should be its leader. The second issue, equally contentious is the fact that ‘Political parties are comprised of hundreds of functionaries with their own ambitions and goals, and alliances frequently collapse as a result of vested interests at lower party echelons’.

Last month, The EFF took a decision to stay away from all council meetings of the DA-led coalitions to demonstrate to the DA this critical point that seems to elude the DA; they did not win the elections and they should not behave with a winners’ arrogance.

In an EFF statement in response to the suspension of UDM’s Mongameli Bobani by the Democratic Alliance’s Trollip, the EFF said “…the DA is failing to hold the opposition parties together through mature‚ patient and humble leadership. They employ the same approach of an arrogance of power that has characterised the Nationalist Party‚ now the ANC, thus rendering the alternative opposition coalition local governments futile”.

The EFF was awakening to the truth that the Democratic Alliance does not really want to be in a coalition or at least sees a coalition as their vehicle to power and not as a partnership. The EFF was at pains to explain to the DA that it actually did not win the elections.

This is the biggest problem with the DA; they have always seen their own place in society in the eyes of what is happening in the ANC. A loss of power by the ANC, to the DA, is a vote of confidence in them, even if they actually did not replace the ANC at the seat of power. Today, you would not be a fool to think that the DA won elections in all three Metros. This is in part due to a monumental shock at the ANC’s loss of the Metros, but it’s also predominantly because the DA sees itself through an ANC prism; an ANC loss to the DA, is a DA win. But It is not.

DA federal council chairperson James Selfe in a statement intended for the UDM’s leadership (already an anti-coalition act given that Selfe could have just written a letter to Holomisa and team), said: “The DA urges Mr Holomisa to now put the people of NMB first. These women and men voted to remove the ANC and replaced it with the coalition government”.

Firstly, this is a nonsensical statement that seeks to suggest that in the coalition; only the DA knows what is good for the people of Nelson Mandela Bay. Secondly, and more importantly, Selfe is suggesting that the Nelson Mandela Bay public removed the ANC from power and replaced it with the DA-led coalition. Nelson Mandela Bay did no such thing, for all they know, they could have been asking for a runoff of another election round, just to teach the ANC that power is not a given, which would have given the City a clear majority government.

An ANC loss, is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a DA win. The DA must actually win with numbers and not view their wins and losses through ANC prism. Unlike the EFF, the UDM is actually participating actively and daily on the DA-led coalition government in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The first problem with the Bobani situation is that the UDM accepted a false position of Deputy Mayor, an executive portfolio that represents nothing. As a result, Bobani, like the Mayor, views his position as overarching, an authority to be part of every other portfolio and decision. Unfortunately, when you have two positions that represent nothing and everything like Mayor and Deputy Mayor, you will have a clash of purpose as both seek to exert their influence on every other sphere of the municipality.

The leaked recording of the meeting where Bobani that could be heard advocating for the appointment of his strategic adviser‚ Nombeko Nkomane‚ as the new director of public health against Trollip’s choice could have been avoided if Bobani was given an actual consequential portfolio with a measure of focus. What the DA sought to do by giving away the Deputy Mayorship to the UDM was to hoodwink them as a coalition partner with big positions and big packages that actually mean nothing because they are in the end, portfolios of nothing.

The coalitions governments in the Metros are a just over a year old and the single memorable thing about them is that they are unstable and full of infighting. They are remembered with accusations and counter-accusations of arrogance, corruption and sheer immaturity of leading coalition of different political parties.

Given that the DA is dreaming of a national coalition in 2019, they are yet to convince the public that coalitions are good for the country, at least not with them as lead partners.

Athenkosi Mabona is South African Students Congress (SASCO) Regional Secretary in the Lejweleputswa Region of the Free State Province 



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