The Biggest 2019 Election Loser: South Africa

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The election is just about over with the majority of votes counted, and a few pictures are emerging, which together do not paint a positive image of South Africa’s new political future, at least for the next five years. At the time of writing, 83.8% of the vote has been counted.

The elephant in the room is that of the Democratic Alliance (DA). At present tally, the 2019 general election has been a poor showing for the DA. Some might even call it a disaster, but this is alarmist. Make no mistake, it is not a good showing, and for the first time since the 1994 election as the Democratic Party, it is set to make a net loss in the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario is that its national vote share stays the same as 2014. In other words, the best picture is one of stagnation.

The DA has shrunk or stagnated in vote share in every province in the country. It is not the official opposition in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga, and Kwa-Zulu Natal. In these provinces it is almost half the EFF, except for KZN where it is about 4% behind the IFP. In Eastern Cape it has shrunk, and in the Free State it has marginally grown. In the Western Cape it retained its majority, but shrunk considerably from its 2014 high of just shy of 60%. In Gauteng it is entirely possible that although the ANC will be pushed below 50%, the DA will not attain its 2014 high of 30%. At a national level, the DA is set to either do worse than its 2014 high of 22.2% or stay about the same.

The DA’s attempts at negative campaigning (campaigning on the shortcomings of other parties rather than its strengths) has not been very successful, but it is the flirting with race-based policies and playing to the ANC’s tune in an attempt to gain voters that appears to have misfired. I am inclined to believe that the insulting manner in which senior members have treated the voting electorate (both directly and indirectly) has played a role. The DA has been warned before that it cannot out-ANC the ANC, but it has tried and in doing so earned the title of ANC-lite. Rather than trying to be an alternative to the ANC, the DA has tried to be a not corrupt version of it. In doing so, it has lurched from crisis to crisis and presented itself as an arrogant party that believes that it is entitled to citizen’s votes in order to be a self-appointed savior from the ANC, and in doing so, shown an unhealthy lust for power. As a result, 2019 has left the DA at a net loss.

The Vryheids Front Plus (VF+) is no doubt the biggest winner in this election. It has grown significantly since its 2014 performance, and it did not make nearly as much effort as the DA in campaigning. I heard it said that the DA could have probably grown its vote share by just not campaigning, and I feel inclined to agree. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has also surged, replacing the DA in KZN as the official opposition. The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has also grown and GOOD has had a satisfactory showing, but other parties have slid towards political death.

COPE and the UDM have had a truly disastrous showing. Both were fighting for political survival, and both have suffered, COPE more so. COPE had no choice but to reinvent itself, but this was not enough. The UDM has suffered presumably from its handling of Bobani in Nelson Mandela Bay. The NFP have had a blowout and might only get one seat with 0.33% compared to its 1.57% in 2014.

My election result forecast used fairly wide margins, and has had mixed results. The ANC, GOOD, EFF, and DA, are all within those generous margins at a national level. At a provincial level, I was wrong on all accounts. I expected a 26-30% showing in the Northern Cape, but the DA did not even broach 26%. In the Western Cape it was closer, but still off what I thought would happen. Gauteng has been a complete surprise: at 65% counted, the DA only has 28%. I also showed too much optimism in COPE and the Capitalist Party.

Currently about 68% of the National Assembly is allocated to parties that do not oppose land expropriation without compensation, and 21.5% is allocated to a party that has tried to be a broad church, and failed because it cannot decide on a religion or even what the church building looks like. There are also 150 000+ spoiled ballots, which point to a very dissatisfied electorate on the options before it. Added to that is the very low voter turnout of 65%. The biggest loser of the election on this basis is the country as a whole, and some reasons speak for themselves, while the DA seriously needs to introspect and reconsider its route going forward rather than insult and blame forces around it. 2021 beckons, and it needs to convince many of these voters that it is not a lost cause.

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