Balancing interests in the ANC party list

From Business Day (Johannesburg), via All Africa, comes a report on the African National Congress leadership in the province of KwaZulu-Natal beginning to prepare its (closed) party lists for the 20009 general election:

At the best of times, compiling candidate lists for seats in Parliament poses major challenges as the party tries to derive maximum benefit in the deployment of its cadres. It is a complicated process, requiring a deep understanding of the nature of an organisation that draws support from such diverse interest groups.

The lists have to mirror, as much as possible, the core constituency of the ANC while at the same time ensuring that particular skills and talents are retained. As the party grows in rural areas, eroding steadily what was once the Inkatha Freedom Party’s (IFP’s) key support base, it has to reflect that in the line-up for the election.

The party also benefited spectacularly from the now out-of-favour floor-crossing legislation. Common decency would require that those who brought with them seats from other parties should at least be placed favourably on the list to ensure they go back to Parliament.

Then, of course, there is the drive to attain a 50% representation of women, which should mean more than a handful of men will be looking for other jobs next year.

Traditionally, the list process has to ensure that there is decent representation of the interests of the alliance partners — a particularly important component if we remember the support given to Jacob Zuma ahead of the last elective ANC conference.

It is indeed also time to reward those who worked tirelessly for Zuma’s win. Payback time, if ever there was one. The question is whether the ANC will be prepared to sacrifice the experience and talent of the comrades who were anti-Zuma. […]

The article also notes that the ANC’s task is especially critical in KwaZulu-Natal, as in that province the IFP and the ANC are likely to be in “a fierce contest.” In other words, to the extent that voters pay attention to the candidates on (or at least near the top of) the lists, candidate quality may sway some votes between the parties. Moreover, the uncertainty about how many seats the party will win complicates its fine intraparty balancing act, as some candidates chosen to represent one or another group or to bring one or another skill to parliament may fail to win seats, if the party performs more poorly than expected.

And then, of course, there is the wild card of the trial of Zuma, if it goes ahead.

A second article from the same source notes the changing nature of the relationship between the party and the government and the impact this is having on the party’s internal processes.

Crucially, power has seeped away from the executive as the ANC grapples with the now stark differences between the party in government and Luthuli House. The fluidity continues to express itself in all areas of our public discourse and within our institutions generally. Parliament is no different in that respect. The ANC parliamentary caucus simply reflects the political fluidity of the moment. It is for this reason that MPs suddenly find themselves with the political space for manoeuvre and the ability to question the executive openly.

…For too long now, Parliament has been tired, mostly reactive and seldom proactive in raising debate or questioning the status quo.

…What is clear and probably predictable is that the ANC within Parliament is unable to separate itself from the political turmoil within the party.

As the party list conference and next year’s elections loom, there will inevitably be tensions as party members fight to retain their positions on the party list.

It seems unlikely that the ANC will fall below a majority in parliament any time soon, but is the executive’s hegemony breaking down on the intraparty dimension? Or is this just a transitional phase, brought about by the rather odd situation (for a parliamentary system) of a party leadership change before the end of the term of the current chief executive?

Will Zuma promote the ouster of Mbeki?

Interesting commentary from Patrick Lawrence, originally from the Sunday Independent in South Africa: Zuma can challenge Mbkei, if he wants to.

A motion of no confidence by allies of newly elected ANC head Jacob Zuma against the now lame-duck administration of President Thabo Mbeki is apparently being considered…

thereby bringing the Mbeki administration to a premature end and terminating the dichotomy between a Zuma-controlled ANC and an Mbeki-controlled government, which is so irksome to the new order in the ANC.

The author analyzes the political considerations–the intra-ANC ones are about all that count here–and suggests:

Taking all these considerations into account, a motion of no-confidence in Mbeki, a call for the dissolution of parliament and an early election seem almost certain to succeed.

Whether Zuma will take this route and incur the risk of aggravating the existing animosities within the ANC and of launching the political equivalent of a civil war remain to be seen.

The current dual leadership is indeed anomalous for what is in fact a parliamentary system. However, one might think that if it was clear that the Zuma forces could muster the votes, Mbeki would be prevailed upon to resign rather than to face the spectacle of losing a vote of no confidence in a parliament in which his party has almost three fourths of the seats.

Early election in South Africa?

Could the intraparty leadership conflict within the African National Congress (ANC) result in early elections? All Africa reports that it is being considered. However, it takes a majority of all members of the National Assembly to call early elections, so if only one of the contending factions–those led by current President (PM) Thabo Mbeki and his likely successor Jacob Zuma–voted for dissolution, it could happen only with the consent of the opposition. Which is not likely forthcoming.

A consideration of the ANC factions is the construction of party lists for any possible early election:

Sitting ANC MPs, who would have to vote in numbers to dissolve Parliament, might not be keen on the idea as their primary concern would be to gain electable positions on the party’s list for the scheduled 2009 election. The new lists will be compiled after list conferences late next year. It is not clear whether the election would be held according to the 2004 lists or whether there would time for new lists to be compiled.

South Africa, as discussed here previously (see the South Africa planting before this one, and in particular its comment thread), is one of the very rare cases of a parliamentary system in which the head of government is subject to a term limit. The head is called President because, in addition to being chosen by and responsible to parliament, the head of government is also the head of state. Mbeki has been President since 1999 and would hit his constitutional ten-year limit with the scheduled 2009 election, so he is a lame duck.

The National Assembly is elected by closed-list PR, in large districts, and there is also a separate national list. In other words, list rank is pretty much everything in this system, and the ANC, as a hegemonic party, has a lot of safe list ranks to hand out.

Party lists stifling dissent in South Africa–closed party lists, that is

Via the Mail and Guardian, South Africa’s Country Self Assessment Report, prepared before the second African Peer Review Mechanism conference in Soweto, notes that

A wide variety of submissions noted the unintended problems of the nation’s party list electoral system, which stifles dissent and ensures accountability to parties rather than citizens.

It is important to add to this conclusion that the problem is not necessarily party lists, per se, but three more specific factors that, in combination, would be expected indeed to limit accountability of legislators and party leaders–including the executive–to the electorate:

    Closed party lists
    High district magnitudes
    A hegemonic party

Very few successful democracies have all three of these factors, or even the first two.

Closed lists mean that individual legislators depend for their ability to win election and reelection on the rankings given by the party organization, and not on the voters.

High district magnitudes mean long lists, such that a large percentage of legislators are likely invisible to voters.

A hegemonic party–the African National Congress, in this case–means that the lists are longer still (because in most of the large districts most legislators are coming off one list) and also that there is no other party to serve as a credible alternative for voters.

The South African combination of closed lists, exceptionally high magnitudes, and a hegemonic party is unusual, and worrisome for the country’s democratic development.

The report, cited above, notes:

power is concentrated in the presidency and because of his control of the ruling party and ability to appoint [provincial] premiers, directors-general, mayors and party lists, he can end the career of anyone seen to have embarrassed or disagreed with party policy. [my emphasis]

This description sounds very much like standard accounts of Mexico in the decades of hegemony of the PRI. One difference is that South Africa’s “president” is actually a prime minister, who could be removed by the legislative party; however, this is a distinction with little difference in the context of such top-down intra-party authority. Worse for South Africa in this comparison with PRI-era Mexico is that South Africa’s fused party-leader/executive is not subject to a single-term limit, as Mexico’s presidency has been ever since the 1917 constitution.* Also, it is worth noting that, for all the apparent top-down authority in the PRI, Mexico never had a fully closed-list electoral system. In fact, for most of the 20th century most Mexican legislators were elected in single-seat districts and there was much more local and state-level accountability within the party than is conventionally recognized. And much more than appears to be the case in South Africa.

Single-seat districts–for all their other limitations–usually inhibit the kind of stifling central authority that developed in Mexico, and presidents always had to negotiate with state and local leaders to maintain their temporary leadership of the party and government. The ANC could be evolving in a more Priista direction than the PRI itself.

Among established democracies that use PR, a fairly well kept secret is that very few have closed lists. Those that do, like Spain, have many smaller magnitudes as well as more competitive party politics. Others use closed lists alongside single-member districts, like Germany and New Zealand. Most European democracies use flexible lists, in which voters may (or must, in some cases) give preference votes that potentially change the list order. Still others–Finland and Switzerland, for example–use fully open lists in which the rank order of candidates depends solely on voters and not on party organizations.

South Africa has its national legislators elected in nine provincial districts with an average magnitude of 22. And then it has 200 more legislators elected from a national list. By contrast, the largest district using a closed list that I am aware of in a European “pure” PR democracy is the district for Lisbon, Portugal, which has fluctuated over the years in the 40-55 range. But Portugal as a whole has a much smaller average magnitude than even South Africa’s 22 for the regional lists (to say nothing of the 200!), and of course, Portugal does not have a single dominant party, so only a few Portuguese legislators are elected at ranks much lower than around 10th.

Among mixed-member systems, New Zealand has a very high magnitude for its PR tier (50+), but it also has 60+ single-seat districts. One can debate whether the “mixed” nature of the system ameliorates the accountability problem of the closed lists or not, but that is a topic for another thread. Germany’s MMP system is sometimes characterized as having a national PR district, but it does not. It has nationwide compensation on the interparty dimension, but only state-level allocation on the intraparty. And only one state’s PR tier is as big as New Zealand’s, while most are far smaller.

I have already noted the oddity of Ukraine’s 450-seat district with closed lists–a fledgling democracy that appears to have exchanged one severe accountability problem (the 225 deputies formerly elected in single-seat districts, often with little party attachment) for another. But Ukraine has no party close to hegemonic status.

Finally, how refreshing that there is a Self Assessment Report, as part of an AU democracy-strengthenining process, about the limits of South African democracy. Would that the OAS mandated the USA to undergo such a Self Assessment!

* As Alan notes below, the South African PM (“President”) is subject to a two-term limit, or ten years (and it could be up to just short of fifteen years in case of succession between elections). Tenure limits of any length in parliamentary systems are extremely unusual, though this is still a much longer period of time for one party leader to remain chief executive than was the case in Mexico’s PRI (6 years lifetime limit). Perhaps more importantly, it transcends across electoral terms. In Mexico, on the other hand, given their immediate “lame duck” status, presidents probably had to engage in more delicate intra-party negotiations to sustain the kind of control over other politicians of the party (of the sort described in the second quote above for South Africa).