South Africa’s ballot and the role of the top-ranked candidate

Steven Taylor has posted an image of the ballot for Wednesday’s South African parliamentary election.

It is a classic closed-list ballot: no candidates’ names included.* Just the photo of the no. 1 candidate–the one who will become “President” if the party wins the majority or leads a coalition.

In a separate post, Steven discusses the patterns of national and provincial lists.

Regarding the no. 1 candidate on each national list: he or she is technically the party’s “presidential candidate.” Yet another of those subtleties usually missing from the media coverage is that the successful candidate, while having the title of President, is really a prime minister: the election is not direct (because becoming President depends on the outcome of the parliamentary election), and the occupant of the post is subject to removal by a majority in a no-confidence vote.

Of course, one party is going to get an overwhelming majority once again, and the leadership will have chosen the individual legislators–due to the closed list.

It is also worth noting that the President/prime minister is also head of state, which is rather unusual for a parliamentary system. The occupant of the office is also limited in tenure, which is also unusual. So the roles of head of government and state are fused, but South Africa is without qualification a parliamentary system.

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* Elsewhere, some closed-list ballots do list some (or, if the district is small, all) of the candidates and not just the leader. But given that such ballots allow no candidate voting, there is no “mechanical” need to show candidates. That’s what I mean by “classic” closed list: just the parties (and their candidate for national executive). (I suppose one could say it would even more classic if even the no. 1 candidate were not shown. I am not aware of such a ballot, but perhaps one has existed somewhere.)

Two thirds to make laws?

Continuing this week’s theme of educating reporters, I would note that the lack of comparative politics understanding in the news media is not just an American affliction. On Deutsche Welle’s (English-language) Journal TV program this morning, a report on the South African election indicated that the main question was whether the ANC would retain the two thirds majority it needs “to make laws.”

Now I do not deny that some constitutions require two-thirds majorities to make certain laws (and sometimes not only constitutional amendments). And the ANC may well have an agenda for the coming term that would require super-majorities to accomplish. However, one might have gotten the impression from the report that all laws require two thirds to pass in South Africa. One would be mistaken in that impression; like most democratic legislatures, most decisions are taken by (simple) majority (see Article 53).

South Africa’s elections

I offer up this space for discussion of South Africa’s general elections on 22 April.

The main question of interest is how strong a performance we will see from the Congress of the People (COPE), which split from the currently hegemonic African National Congress (ANC). Could the ANC fall below a majority? If it did, that would be some fall, given that it won almost 70% of votes and seats in 2004.

Nelson Mandela made a “surprise” appearance at the ANC’s final election rally. That presumably can’t hurt.

South Africa PM/president removal?

I have been wanting to address this issue, but have lacked time. Fortunately, Alan came to my rescue. Here, moved from a previous comment thread, is some information from Alan. (Thanks for planting, Alan!)

South Africa may be about to experience its first presidential removal. The relevant provision of the constitution is:

102. Motions of no confidence

If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the Cabinet excluding the President, the President must reconstitute the Cabinet.

If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the President, the President and the other members of the Cabinet and any Deputy Ministers must resign.

[Alan again.] If the motion is successful the speaker acts as president until the assembly elects a new president. A new election only happens if the assembly does not complete an election within 30 days.

[MSS again] My subject line deliberately points to the unusual case of South Africa’s institutions: the country’s constitution is clearly parliamentary (fused origin–i.e. there are no separate executive elections–and fused survival in the sense of executive dependence on parliamentary confidence). Yet, rather unusually for a parliamentary system, the head of the parliamentary majority is also the head of state. Thus he really is both a prime minister and president, and his title is the latter. He is also subject to term limits.

To make things even more unusual, from a parliamentary standpoint, the ruling ANC replaced its leader a while ago (from Mbeki to Zuma), yet the PM/president was not changed. This sort of ‘dyarchy’ is not unheard of, but is rare in parliamentary systems. (Various aspects of this developing dyarchy have been covered in past plantings: just click on the country name in the “Planted in” line and they will come up on the same page.)

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.