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2014 elections brought change and continuity

Date Released: Thu, 22 May 2014 13:00 +0200

The Manager of the Political Parties and Parliamentary Programme at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), Mr Ebrahim Fakir questioned whether the recent general election was in fact one of greater contestation. He was speaking during Wednesday’s (21 May 2014) Politics Teach-In, concluding that expectations of significantly altered party support systems had not been met.

Speaking to the topic “South Africa’s Election 2014: Continuity or Change”, he argued that a major problem during this election was that parties seemed unwilling to fully acknowledge the unusual South African condition of radical inequality and societal inhumanity.

“You have privileged access alongside marginalisation and exclusion,” he said, going on to connect these issues to the proliferation of violent crime and abuse. “Amidst all of this abnormality political parties seem to behave as if this is somewhat normal.”

He said that many parties seem less concerned with the delivery of collective public goods to significantly change the current political economy than they are caught up in capturing power for personal gain. This, he said ought not to be tolerated.

“We must not accept the capturing of power and influence for its own sake,” he said. “The exercise of power and influence needs to serve a purpose.”

The result of this approach to politics, he suggested, is diminishing trust being placed in political leaders by the citizens who legitimate them. This perception that politics is merely the pursuit of purposeless power is something he argues has been reflected in a number of reliable public perception surveys over the past few years, affecting the all-time low in voter turnout figures this year.

“I think South African political parties across the board are at risk of threatening the way in which they capture power and the legitimacy with which they exercise influence,” Mr Fakir said.

Expanding upon this, he shared with the audience that while the African National Congress (ANC) obtained a significant majority, there were a greater number of people who did not participate in the election at all than there were people who voted for the ruling party.

He said in 2014 elections, “Of the 31,434,035 eligible voters, 59.34 per cent (18,654,457) voted while the remaining 40.66 per cent (12,779,578) stayed away. The ANC received support from 36.39 per cent (11,436,921) of the eligible voting population.”

“This has given rise to some spectacular facts and fantasies. Depending of course on whose perspective one is speaking from. The one trope is that at the same time that South Africa’s eligible voting population – based on estimates of successive censuses – has increased by 8.4 million in 20 years of democracy, the number of people who have chosen not to vote has increased by 9,4 million.

“Simultaneously, electoral support for the ANC, as a percentage of that voting population, has declined precipitously from 53 to 36 per cent. This matters not from outside of the ANC but as a movement that aims to lead society, it must matter.”

 “What [the election] in fact was is a test of the credibility and durability of our democratic systems,” he stated, continuing to say that these statistics ought to lead to some critical self-reflection for the ANC. “What I’m pointing out are anomalies for them and for all of us to think about,” he added.

On the whole, however, Fakir believes that what can be taken from the election is that while there is a new cosmopolitan electorate willing to split or change their vote in the metropolitan areas, traditional ANC voters would rather stay away from the polling stations than vote for a different party. At the same time, opposition parties are facing fragmentation and fracturing as well as ideological issues.

He concluded that these elections have brought about both change and continuity, as well as a limited amount of contestation in an unexpected sense.

By Kyla Hazell

Photo: Mr Ebrahim Fakir

Photo by:  Stephane Meintjes

Source:Communications and Marketing