ANC support plummets: Election ’24 on a coalition knife edge – Katzenellenbogen - Biznews

As we head into the election, most polls show that ANC support is tracking at below 50 percent. The Brenthurst Foundation poll, conducted last month and released earlier this week, shows that the ANC is likely to obtain only 39 percent of the vote. That is down nearly 19 percentage points on what it won in 2019 , and one of the lowest indicators of its support so far in this election cycle.

As the election looms, recent polls signal a seismic shift in ANC support, falling below 50 percent, a trend unseen since 1994. The Brenthurst Foundation’s latest poll predicts a mere 39 percent for the ANC, prompting speculation of coalition formations. With potential partners ranging from MK to the DA, the landscape of South African politics is on the brink of transformation. Yet, questions linger about election integrity and the future stability of governance amidst this evolving political tapestry.

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen

As we head into the election, most polls show that ANC support is tracking at below 50 percent. The Brenthurst Foundation poll, conducted last month and released earlier this week, shows that the ANC is likely to obtain only 39 percent of the vote. That is down nearly 19 percentage points on what it won in 2019 , and one of the lowest indicators of its support so far in this election cycle.

An unidentified poll result leaked by the Sunday newspaper Rapport, last year put ANC support at just 35 percent.

With the steep decline in ANC support, there has not been such great uncertainty, since 1994, over the make-up of our next government.

With the ANC so far below the 50 percent mark in this Brenthurst poll, we could be on a knife edge of either the ANC entering a radical populist coalition or a more centrist one. The ANC might join up with the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party, endorsed by former President Jacob Zum, to make up its deficit. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) could join them and widen the coalition’s majority to pursue its radical agenda.

Another possibility would be for the ANC to form a coalition with the Democratic Alliance (DA) and its Multi-Party Charter (MPC) allies. With the ANC at just 39 percent, it cannot form a governing coalition with a few small parties, as collectively these parties are expected to gain only seven percent in the  election.

Even with these possible coalition anchors, national politics risks falling into the chaos of cities, like Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Tshwane havesince the 2021 local elections. A few councillors switching sides has led to the collapse of governing coalitions.

The Brenthurst poll still shows that the ANC, with its 39 percent, is likely to remain the largest party, and therefore a cornerstone of any coalition arrangement. The DA polled 27 percent, which marks a strong rise for the party compared to recent polls and recent election results. All the Multi-Party Charter parties – the DA, the African Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Front Plus, Inkatha Freedom Party, Action SA, the United Christian Democratic Party, United Independent Movement, Ekethu People’s Party, Spectrum National Party, and the Independent South African National Civic Organisation took 33 percent in this poll, just six percentage points behind the ANC.

A big surprise in this poll is that the MK party, which was only formed in December last year, took 13 percent. The EFF were at ten percent in the poll, a fall of seven percentage points from one in October last year. And the smaller non-MPC parties combined only achieved seven percent in this poll.

With a sample size of 1500 and a margin of error of three percent, this is a reasonably reliable poll. Interviewing more people, which brings down the margin of error, is expensive. Polls in in coming weeks that are closer to the election and have larger sample sizes, will be more accurate indicators

One nagging question ahead of this election is whether, with the ANC on the slide, the post-1994 tradition of free and fair elections will continue. The EFF has long been worried about this and ten years ago its Commander-in-Chief, Julius Malema, suggested that the reliance of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) on members of the ANC-aligned South African Democratic Teachers Union, as temporary officials, is a problem.

The DA is also worried about possible election fraud and has written to western governments to ask that they send observer missions. That has sparked much feigned outrage among some in the ANC commentariat about the party’s lack of faith in a domestic institution. But crying foul after the event will do little good if not backed up by a heavy observer presence, which also offers a degree of deterrence to election related malfeasance.

In the months running up to previous elections, the ANC has gained a late boost in its support with large and well organised rallies and extensive coverage of its campaign by the state broadcaster. With about two and half months to go before election day, the party still has the chance to surprise, although it could be fast running out of time.

If the election results in numbers close to those in the Brenthurst poll, the ANC would need 12 percent of the vote to take it over the 50 percent line to form a government. The seven percent from the rats and mice parties would be insufficient to allow the ANC to rule. If the ANC only received 39 percent, it might have to approach the MK Party, which would bring in 13 percent to and take it comfortably over the line.

For safety, it might also want to bring the EFF into that coalition. With the EFF’s ten percent, the ANC would have a comfortable majority of 62 percent.

Malema has spoken favourably of cooperating with other “progressive” parties that are committed to expropriation without compensation. But more often than not the goal of the EFF seems to be disruption rather than being part of a stable governing arrangement. While it gained an impressive 13 percent in the Brenthurst poll, the MK remains an unknown factor. It only has temporary leadership, and the Electoral Court still has to decide whether it will be allowed to contest the elections.

An ANC, MK, and EFF coalition is bound to scare the markets and even court a financial crisis. With the levels of support in the February poll, the “progressive” coalition would not have the two-thirds majority required to change the Constitution to end the independence of the Reserve Bank. But with help of four percent from smaller parties that might be possible.

The maths does not seem to be in place for the MPC to form the cornerstone of a coalition. There is no source for the 18 percent gap to be filled, and the smaller parties are likely to be unreliable and demanding allies. But is it possible that the ANC might go for a coalition with the MPC rather than its closer ideological friends?

The DA would have to consult the MPC, but they might agree in order to keep the MK and the EFF out of government. With cadres in charge of government departments, however, it would be a very difficult and perhaps short lived arrangement.

Could the ANC offer a Government of National Unity to all the parties who have sufficient votes for a seat in the National Assembly? It would not necessarily be stable or able to achieve much, but it is probably a better option than a government pursuing an agenda of radical economic transformation.

A one-party dominant system is coming to an end. But we are about to pay a heavy price for our system of proportional representation. We will have governments mired in coalition politics that are unlikely to bring about key reforms.

Katzenellenbogen is a Joburg-based freelance journalist

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.