Tuesday June 25th, 2024 5:24PM

It's possible no party will get a majority in South Africa's election. Here's what that would mean

By The Associated Press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The focus for South Africa's national election next week is on the fate of the African National Congress party and whether it is going to lose its parliamentary majority for the first time, as many expect.

Several polls put the ANC's support below 50% ahead of Wednesday's vote, raising the prospect that it might not be the majority party for the first time since winning control of the government when Nelson Mandela led it to victory in the first all-race elections that ended white minority rule in 1994.

But the ANC is still widely expected to be the biggest party.

Here's how no clear majority would bring an unprecedented political change and complicate how the president is elected and how the government works in Africa’s most advanced economy:

ELECTING THE PRESIDENT

The most immediate impact if there is no party with a majority would be on how the president is chosen and if ANC leader and current President Cyril Ramaphosa is reelected for a second and final five-year term.

The president is the head of state and has executive powers, but South Africans don't vote directly for the president in a national election, rather casting ballots for political parties. Those parties get seats in Parliament according to their share of the vote. Lawmakers then elect the president in the first sitting of the legislature after the election.

The vote occurs in the lower house of Parliament, known as the National Assembly, and it needs at least 201 votes from its 400 lawmakers to elect a president. The ANC has always had a majority in Parliament since 1994 and so the president has always been from the ANC.

Without a majority, the ANC would need a coalition or agreement with another party or other parties to get Ramaphosa reelected. The president could even come from another, smaller party if that's the agreement, although that's very unlikely.

NATIONAL COALITION

The word coalition makes South Africans nervous after a series of them at local government level have been spectacular failures, including in Johannesburg, the biggest city and economic hub. There, the collapse of numerous agreements between parties has led to major problems in running the city’s services. Other towns and cities have had similar experiences, including the administrative capital, Pretoria.

But a national coalition government of some sort is a real possibility as a result of the ANC's declining support and would be unchartered waters for South Africa.

While a coalition might be a reflection of the democratic will of the people, some analysts say it could also be bad for South Africa's economy. It increases the chances of government instability and could lead to muddled policy, putting off foreign business investment at a time when South Africa desperately needs that.

SMALL PARTIES, BIG SAY

There has been no indication of who the ANC might approach as a coalition partner and, for now, all options appear to be on the table. The ANC has maintained during election campaigning that it is not thinking about coalitions and is focused on retaining its majority.

Should the predictions hold and the ANC loses its majority, it could go straight to the official opposition Democratic Alliance party for a coalition. It's unclear if that's feasible as the DA has been so critical of the ANC and Ramaphosa, as have the two other main parties.

Instead, the ANC may go to a number of smaller parties with small shares of the vote to put together a coalition that would take their combined share to over 50% and allow a government to be formed.

There are dozens of parties contesting the election, many of them new and some expected to get just a few percent of the vote, but they could suddenly have a big say in South African politics. Those smaller parties would want something in return, whether Cabinet positions, some input on policy or even control of entire government departments.

ANOTHER OPTION

Some South African political commentators have started to speak about a possible government of national unity in a kind of repeat of what happened just after the apartheid system of white minority rule ended 30 years ago. Then, Mandela invited other major parties into his government to seek some unity as South Africa took its first, uncertain steps as a democracy and went about writing a new constitution.

It was an act of reconciliation in bringing a fractured country together, though others have doubted it would work for South Africa now. For one thing, if all the major political parties were part of the government, who would hold it to account?

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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