Can South Africa coalition?


Two weeks before May 29, there is still no clarity on the outcome of the election. The almost daily polls show that it remains highly fluid. And yet there are indications that show the direction in which the country is moving.

All polls during the last month show that the ANC will get less than 50% of the votes nationally. This is largely due to the current strong support of the MK party (MKP), which stands at around 10% nationally. MKP also hurt the EFF with the latter’s support falling from a high of 18% at the end of 2023 to only about 8-9% currently. The DA’s support is around 23% and that of the IVP 3.5%. The FF+ is also constant around 2%.

According to the latest published opinion polls which News24 daily by the Social Research Foundation, the possible approximate results in two weeks are as follows:

ANC 43%, DA 23%, MK 10%, EFF 8%, IVP 4% and the others together 11%.

However, many things can still happen in the next two weeks. The ANC brought in its big (experienced) guns, such as Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, to help gather votes. The DA sent its federal chairman, Helen Zille, to the Southern Cape. The MKP struggles with internal problems, but still gets publicity from court cases and quarrels. The EFF is (at least for them) quieter than usual. The Multiparty Pact (MPP) is not measured separately, but can still, with the help of ActionSA and the FF+, attract up to 30% of the vote. However, even with support from the other center parties such as Rise Mzansi, BOSA and the Patriotic Alliance (PA), the VPV will not easily reach more than 35%.

From the approximate predicted support (which probably won’t change by more than 10% to either side), the one certainty we have is that there will be a coalition after 29 May.

If the ANC gets around 43% at national level, its best coalition option is probably the IVP and some of the other smaller parties (such as Good). Through this, the IVP can get the premiership of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the deputy presidency (depending on how MKP and the EFF do there).

However, if the ANC falls below 40%, the options are more limited. The EFF is not his first option (and according to the latest polls may not help him get over the 50% mark either). The DA is a possibility, but it would be dangerous for both the ANC and DA, because it could alienate supporters on both sides. A Government of National Unity (GNE), with all parties achieving 3% or more, will make it “safer” for both the ANC and the DA. Such an RNE would have to exclude the EFF and MKP. And the DA and smaller parties, on the condition that a good coalition agreement is concluded, cannot easily say “no” to this.

Another possibility (which has not yet received much consideration in the media) is the possibility that the ANC will not be able to conclude a coalition agreement in the two weeks allowed for it.

The Constitution states in art 51(1) that the National Assembly (NA) must hold a session no later than 14 days after the result of a national election and article 86(1) states that during this first session a president is elected must be

In an unpublished article in which they write about this and other matters, Prof. Koos Malan and Ilze Grobbelaar-du Plessis (the latter from the law faculty at the University of Pretoria) convincingly point out that the president does not necessarily have to be elected with a majority of the members of the NV (201 out of 400), but only with a majority of the votes cast.

For example, if three candidates are nominated and candidate A gets 190 votes, candidate B gets 120 votes, and candidate C gets 65 votes (and 25 members are absent or abstain from voting), candidate A is elected because he/she more than the total of the other two candidates (185). However, if candidate B gets, for example, 140 votes (and B and C together get more than the 190 of candidate A), candidate C is eliminated and a further vote is held. The candidate who gets the most is then elected president.

If the ANC can conclude a coalition agreement with other parties within the allowed two weeks, the sum is easy. Then Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa gets 201 votes, because the ANC and all the coalition parties will vote for him. That coalition agreement will then also determine who he will appoint as deputy president and what the coalition cabinet will look like. The election of the NA’s speaker and deputy speaker during that session will also be easy.

However, if the ANC cannot finalize a coalition agreement within the two weeks, the picture becomes more complicated. This scenario can develop especially if the ANC gets less than 45% and has to form a coalition with more than one party. The session of the NA and the election of the president (as well as the speaker and deputy speaker) cannot be postponed.

The only option for the ANC is then to declare a minority government, on the basis that no other party or coalition can muster more than, say, 43% of the support. Getting the president elected with 43% or 172 votes is (as outlined above) not impossible, but difficult.

The center opposition (the DA, other members of the VPV and parties such as Rise Mzansi and BOSA) will not have enough votes to oppose it. The same applies to the MKP and the EFF together. And it is highly unlikely that all the opposition parties will come together to stop the ANC’s candidate or get their own candidate elected.

The ANC will therefore, to Mr. To get Ramaphosa elected, what is called a “trust and support agreement” must be concluded with one or two parties. This is less than a coalition agreement and means that those parties will vote together with the ANC for the president (and probably the speaker and deputy speaker) and will not support motions of no confidence in the president and the cabinet. Passing such motions is more difficult than electing the president, as the Constitution stipulates that it needs a majority of the members in the National Assembly (namely 201).

If the ANC manages to get a president elected as a minority government, it will have to get support from other parties for every decision in the NA on an ad hoc basis. This makes the approval of legislation and a budget especially difficult, but not impossible. The other possibility is that after the election of a president, but before the announcement of the cabinet, the ANC tries again to get a formal coalition agreement finalized. If this fails, coalition talks may continue and be announced at any time. The result will probably be that some ANC ministers and deputy ministers will lose their posts in favor of representatives of the coalition partners.

It is clear that a very interesting and unpredictable time is ahead for the country. There will probably be some clarity and certainty only towards the end of June. The good news is that the ANC’s thirty years of hegemony at the national level will be ended, and that in addition to the Western Cape, there will also be non-ANC led provincial governments in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Our democracy will come out stronger on the other side of this process.