South African President to Dissolve Parliament? Call New Elections?

A report by Stratfor, tucked away nicely on their members-only page, is titled South Africa: President To Dissolve Parliament – Report. Such a course of action would seem prudent if viewed from a political perspective. While this year’s regulary schedule general election were to be held sometime between April and June, this recent possible action by South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe, could signal the African National Congress’s (ANC) growing concern over the upstart breakaway party, the Congress of the People (COPE). 

ANC may well claim that since the dismissal of Thabo Mbeki from head of state, Motlanthe has been in a care-taking role and that with the current worldwide finicial crisis, it is more appropriate to get a new government seated sooner, rather than later. Motlanthe has certainly kept the ball rolling on certain ANC projects, one of which was the dismantling of the Scorpions, but he has not undertaken any other major endevors as he has no political capital of his own. The looming shadow of Jacob Zuma must also be inhibiting Motlanthe during his Presidency. (To See a Review of his first 100 Days in office, see his interview with the M&G) This claim that a legitimate government is needed to handle the financial crisis would seem to make good sense, as a new government would be able to react to the crisis and use their newly earned political capital to implement their plans.

Oddly enough, another possible reason for the early election might be a new possibility for South Africans abroad to vote overseas. While not all inclusive, the government may want to speed up an election, so that word of mouth of the new provision has not spread sufficiently in time for an overseas vote to be significant. As most of the overseas vote would most likely favor the DA or possibly COPE, the ANC is not exactly advertising this new ability to vote abroad.  

The ANC must also be worrying about any growing influence that COPE is gathering in former ANC territory. It would be rational to believe that the longer COPE has to prepare for the elections and to publicize their platform, the more successive they will be in the election. Whether this plays out in this fashion is still to be seen, but its a fair bet that the 2009 South African election may well be the most exciting since 1994. The smaller parties are sensing the division in the ANC may mean more votes for their platforms, but I believe the actual number of electorate defections will be less than is hyped in the media. In any case, voter participation may rise for the first time in South Africa’s post-apartheid era.

Which ever reason is given by President Motlanthe to call for elections before the normal timetable, there must be a period of 60-65 days between when an election is called and when the actual voting day is established. COPE has claimed that a date of March 25th has been set, denied by Motlanthe, but in reality will one or two months make a difference to COPE’s success at the voting booth? They might argue yes, but in reality I believe that those who were ready to cast a non-ANC vote have already made up their mind about COPE. Those rural people who COPE may try to target for conversion from ANC stalwarts cannot be converted in months, rather years.

While 2009 sees the first formidable splinter group of the ANC pose a challenge to the ANC, no real power change will happen this year. It may be 2014, or beyond, before a COPE, or a COPE-DA alliance, could seriously threaten the stranglehold the ANC possesses over the South African electorate.

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