South African vote: What happens now?

AFP , Tuesday 4 Jun 2024

South Africa has elected its 400-member National Assembly and for the first time in the country's 30 years of post-apartheid democratic rule, no single party holds an absolute majority.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at the formal announcement of the results of South A
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at the formal announcement of the results of South Africa s general election at the National Results Operations Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sunday, June 2, 2024. AP


The next government will be led by a president chosen by MPs from among their number but the incumbent, President Cyril Ramaphosa of the African National Congress, is no longer in sole charge of his destiny.

So what happens next?


What does the Constitution say?

The results of South Africa's 2024 general election were announced on Sunday, and the new parliament is supposed to meet no more than 14 days after this, on a date determined by the chief justice.

"At its first sitting after its election ... the National Assembly must elect a woman or a man from among its members to be the president," according to the constitution.

The president-elect ceases to be an MP in the Cape Town-based parliament and must be sworn into office within five days, after which he names a cabinet to help him run the executive government in Pretoria.

For the past three decades, this has been a smooth procedure, as the ANC has always had more than 200 MPs on its own and has been able to designate its leader as president and confirm him comfortably.

This year, Ramaphosa or a new ANC leader will be forced to rely on backers from other parties to get over the threshold, implying a coalition or an agreement to allow the formation of a minority government.


What do the parties say?

Several opposition parties, in particular the centre-right Democratic Alliance and the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), have indicated they are ready to negotiate a political deal with the ANC.

Between them, the ANC's 159 seats and the DA's 87 already add up to a majority. Adding in the IFP's 17 would create a bigger buffer if some ruling party MPs baulk at the idea of doing a deal with right-wing rivals.

But there are other routes to a majority.

The ANC could seek a deal with a basket of smaller parties.

The far-right Patriotic Alliance has nine MPs and will talk to anyone with power if he or she agrees to expel undocumented migrants. Another 16 parties have between one and six seats and could form an unwieldy coalition.

But, ideologically, the broad-church but traditionally left-progressive ANC is closer to two outfits run by former senior members of its ranks.

Former ANC youth leader Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has 39 MPs and would leave Ramaphosa only three seats short of a majority.

But the party's radical leftist policies -- in particular a vow to nationalise many private businesses and land -- and Malema's history of racially charged and threatening public statements would alienate many moderates and white voters.

The third-placed party, graft-tainted former ANC president Jacob Zuma's comeback vehicle uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), would bring 58 seats, but has rejected the election results and threatened to boycott parliament.

The MK has also said that it would not back an ANC-led government if Ramaphosa remains at the helm, and the president's party plans to keep him.

Furthermore, the DA's white leader John Steenhuisen says he is only open to talks with the ANC to prevent what he calls an ANC-MK-EFF "Doomsday Coalition" that he says would wreck the constitution and economy.


How will the negotiations work?

Several officials from rival groups told AFP at the results announcement late Sunday that informal talks between party bigwigs have already begun. This is expected to accelerate over the week ahead.

The DA and IFP say they have nominated leadership teams to conduct formal talks.

Most significantly, the ANC's powerful National Executive Council is expected to meet on Tuesday to decide whether to stick with Ramaphosa as its candidate and to set the direction of negotiations.

Press reports suggest the party may be leaning towards a "confidence and supply" arrangement where the DA and IFP agree to vote for Ramaphosa as president and promise to back him in budget votes and confidence motions.

But there may yet be an agreement on a formal coalition, with former opposition candidates in executive roles and ministries.

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