Proposed new laws to ‘stabilise’ coalitions in South Africa

 ·15 Apr 2024

A new private members bill has been tabled in the National Assembly, which proposes changes to local government to prepare South Africa for the “new norm” of coalition governments and dealing with the rise of what lawmakers refer to as “kingmakers”.

Siviwe Gwarube of the Democratic Alliance (DA) tabled the Local Government: Municipal Structures Second Amendment Bill as a private members’ bill to Parliament on 10 April.

“Coalition governments will now be the ‘new norm’, at a national, provincial and local government level,” the legislation seeks to prepare South Africa for that, the bill’s authors said.

The proposed changes suggest stabilising the often fleeting alliances seen in numerous municipalities nationwide. More of these kinds of alliances could be seen at both provincial and national government levels following the elections on May 29.

The bill proposes extending the deadlines for councils to appoint district representatives and for the initial council meeting post-election, allowing more time to elect a speaker, whip, mayor, and deputy mayor.

The recommended timeframe—one month—would put municipalities in line with the national government for the period during which a president is elected.

Additionally, it proposes introducing an electoral threshold for proportional seat allocation in metropolitan, local, and district councils.

This includes “determining the allocation of seats to representatives of local councils to district councils”.

“This will ensure that smaller parties, who do not enjoy the confidence of the voters, are not let into council through ‘the back door’ by way of the second round highest remainder calculations,” the authors said.

Hopes to squash ‘kingmakers’

Many municipal councils are fragmented – requiring multi-party/candidate coalition blocs to establish a 50% +1 majority to form a government.

The main argument for instability in these councils presented in the bill is that parties seeking to establish a coalition bloc and secure power often lobby ‘smaller’ parties, resulting in them withdrawing from their existing coalitions in exchange for specific positions or advantages.

Gwarube said in the proposed legislation that this elevates the status of “one-person” parties, which may represent a fraction of a municipality’s vote, to that of crucial decision-makers in forming a government.

Previous debates on coalition legislation

Back in August 2023, a dialogue on developing a framework for stabilising coalitions was hosted by Deputy President Paul Mashatile for political parties.

However, it largely caused more friction than consensus.

During the discussion, while it was agreed that issues in coalitions are caused by the way that they are formed, political party leaders tended to blame each other for instability.

As has been the case at the municipal level, larger parties blamed smaller parties for the instability, and smaller parties pointed the finger right back.

The two current largest parties, the ANC and the DA, suggested implementing legislation which would ensure that the party that receives the most votes within a bloc governs the coalition. They also argued that there should be a minimum threshold for parties to join any coalition (1%).

Parties such as the Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+), Good, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) strongly opposed these legislative suggestions at the time, with Dr Pieter Groenewald of the VF+ saying that they were “not based on true representative democracy.”

The recently tabled bill differs slightly from these previous arguments; however still looks to crack down on the pulling power of ‘smaller parties’ in coalitions.

The proposed bill, which will now be deliberated in the National Assembly before possibly heading to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), can be read below:

Read: South Africa heading towards the shaky world of national coalitions

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