Splinter parties become kingmakers

IEC voting station. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/ Independent Newspapers

IEC voting station. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/ Independent Newspapers

Published May 12, 2024


Durban — Splinter parties born from the division of existing political entities can significantly influence political landscapes and policy outcomes.

They play a crucial role in coalition governments and holding the balance of power. In some cases, they serve as kingmakers, steering policy decisions and influencing the government’s direction.

They also pose challenges to parent parties, dividing their voter base and weakening their political position. Their emergence, often due to leadership conflicts or ideological differences, upsets the balance of power and makes it difficult for established parties to maintain dominance.

The uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) being led by former president of the ANC and the country is the latest splinter party to be formed in the build-up to the elections. Political pundits have predicted that the MKP is likely to impact the ANC and IFP.

And for the first time since, the ballot paper is expected to be the longest, featuring a number of new parties.

University of Stellenbosch Professor Collette Schulz-Herzenberg in the Department of Political Science indicated that the proliferation of new parties led by members from the main parties was not unique to South Africa, but was found in other parts of the world.

“The trend is that with more elections held over the years, there are more parties, and this means that there are more options for the voter,” said Shultz-Herzenberg.

She noted that the high number of political parties did not mean they were bringing something new and radical to the country’s political landscape, adding that this was one of the points that voters were aware of.

Shultz-Herzenberg added that while many parties offered choices, there was an equally good chance that smaller parties would turn voters off. She said while voters were looking for a better social safety net, they were equally street-smart.

“Voters are not fools, and they know that promises of a radical policy shift are unrealistic.”

Shultz-Herzenberg said voters have a chance to exercise their sovereignty and should use the once-every-five-year opportunity to make their voices heard by voting.

University of Johannesburg lecturer and political analyst Ndzali Mathebula said while bigger parties could dismiss smaller formations that have emerged out of them, they have a role to play.

“Yes, indeed, the political parties that have emerged from another party do have great relevance in the forthcoming elections this year. The relevance stems from the emergence of coalition governments dominating the electoral theme this year. Therefore, it can be surmised that these sister parties can form a coalition government.”

Mathebula stressed that while there was scope for leaders of splinter parties to return to their former homes, in possible coalitions, there was an equally good chance for the mother parties to seek to wield influence and impose their interests on the smaller parties in a coalition setting.

Forming a breakaway party from the ANC is nothing new, as has been demonstrated over the years since its formation in 1912:

  • The Pan Africanist Congress was formed by Robert Sobukwe following a disagreement with the leadership over the adoption of the Freedom Charter as a guide towards liberation, especially the inclusion of all racial groups.
  • The UDM was formed by General Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer following the former’s expulsion from the ruling party over his fallout with Cabinet minister Stella Sigcau over corruption when she was a leader in Transkei.
  • Disgruntled former ANC chairperson Patrick “Terror” Lekota left the ANC after the ruling party’s decision to recall then president Thabo Mbeki from the Union Buildings. He, along with one of Mbeki’s key backers, Mbhazima Shilowa, formed Cope ahead of the 2009 elections.
  • Following his expulsion as ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema formed the EFF, a party that manages to win seats at national and provincial levels. The EFF’s presence in Parliament during Zuma’s term introduced protest politics in Parliament, often characterised by chaotic scenes.
  • A disagreement over the determination of municipal boundaries resulted in the forming of the African Independent Congress. South Africa’s other main political players in the DA and IFP have also seen splinters emerging from fallout with their former leaders.

Last year, former DA leader and Speaker in the Western Cape Legislature, Masizole Mnqasela, formed the Alliance of Citizens for Change, which is also contesting the elections.

Patricia de Lille, leader of the GOOD Party, first defected from the PAC to form the Independent Democrats, which worked with the DA and subsequently got dissolved by the party. Following a fallout with the DA leadership, De Lille ventured on her own and got sufficient votes to secure a parliamentary seat and a Cabinet position.

Former IFP chairperson Ziba Jiyane led the formation of the National Democratic Convention through the floor crossing legislation in 2005. However, the party’s life in the political landscape was short-lived because of infighting.

In 2011, Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, who had been IFP, formed the National Freedom Party (NFP), which contested the local government elections in the same year. While the party won some municipalities in KZN, infighting saw the party’s fortunes also dwindle, and the NFP is not expected to perform well in the elections.

Until recently, the MKP was seen as the most significant threat to the ANC’s power base, but a string of purges and tit-for-tat accusations have left many doubting the party’s fortunes.

Sunday Tribune