In just about every country with a functioning democracy, the concept of leadership resigning after bad election results is standard. The Democratic Alliance needs to take heed of this, but more specifically the party leader Mmusi Maimane needs to ask himself what progress he has brought to the party in terms of electoral success.
Regardless of where one looks, humble party leaders who admit defeat are one of the ways in which political parties grow and get better. Theresa May resigned as Prime Minister after fighting for years to secure a deal on Britain’s Exit from the European Union. When she realised that she had nothing more to contribute, she stepped down. The result is that the Conservative Party is now bolstered by Brexiteer prime minister popular among the right-wing of the party. Regardless whether you like Boris Johnson or not, he represents a progress in political success for the Coservative Party and this was achieved because the previous leader recognised that her leadership had begun to hurt the party at the polls. Theresa May should be applauded, not just for incredibly difficult job of navigating Britain through process of Brexit, but also for having the wisdom and humility when she realised that she could not get the job done. This is leadership done correctly.
Mmusi Maimane has unfortunately harked an era of a lukewarm, wishy-washy, ideologically directionless Democratic Alliance whose voters are less and less clear about what the party stands for. The recent war-of-words between DA leadership and the IRR is a strange irony considering just a year ago it was the DA who recruited Gwen Ngwenya – then COO or the IRR – to become the DA head of policy. Now the party leadership is branding the IRR as being “right-wing“. Was the DA also “right-wing” a year ago or did this imaginary radical ideological shift happen in the last few months at an organisation with more than 100 years of history fighting against racialism? Obviously one is falling for that.
Perhaps this kind of ad hoc double-standard from Maimane has been fueling voters to abandon the party, or at the very least become confused for what it stands for. Take this example: On the 17th of October Maimane commented on the DA election for Federal Chaiperson by saying that he would prefer a black female candidate and that it was it was a “concern” that all four candidates are white. The next day, Maimane tweeted the following in a response to a headline from The Sowetan which read “Black DA pushes back against Zille”
These kind of headlines are problematic and unacceptable.
The DA is a non-racial organisation committed to building One South Africa for All. 🇿🇦
We may be having an internal contestation but we do not mobilise along racial lines. pic.twitter.com/5p3T5GwI8e
— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) October 18, 2019
https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsIsn’t that what you wanted? The DA is a non-racial organisation whose party leader thinks candidates of one race are a “cause for concern” and would “prefer” a candidate of a different race. One can’t be blamed for being confused by the party’s messages when its leader is contradictory about such a fundamental principle.
Note that all of this is completely aside from the actual pros and cons of race-based policies within the DA (or anywhere else for that matter). The criticism here is about inconsistency.
The DA’s lack of candid introspection on this issue is also dissappointing. This is despite that fact that there are intelligent individuals within the DA who recognise this shortcoming. John Steenhuisen himself has said (on an episode of the Rational Standard podcast) that he thinks the DA’s lack of success in the last election was due to not being clear on political standpoints and cited the example of Liberal Democrats and the Brexit party who had been very successful British parties in the last European Parliament election while uncertain Labour and Conservatives lost many seats. I agree with the honourable Steenhuisen, but something needs to be done about this lest the DA lose more voters in the next election.
In the United States, Mitt Romney withdrew from politics after his loss to Obama only returning with a 2018 Senate election campaign and Hillary Clinton has likewise generally withdrawn from involvement in the Democratic Party (besides the interview or book deal). Paul Nuttal resigned as leader of UKIP after a disastrous result of the 2015 British election. Theresa May resigned as prime minister after years of failing to secure a Brexit deal. These were all political leaders who lead for a time and resigned when their party began to suffer at the polls as result their leadership. The DA has precisely the same problem and this is by no means limited to Maimane.
The party should take a look at its election results starting from Tony Leon’s leadership up until the present day and ask what variable has changed to undo such enormous electoral strides. They need to find out what went wrong and get rid of it with all due haste.