IFP proposes grand coalition amidst SA’s electoral uncertainty

As South Africa’s elections loom, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) proposes a novel solution: a “grand coalition” to lead the nation if neither the ANC nor opposition clinch a majority. Amidst forecasts of ANC support slipping below 50%, IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa advocates for cross-party collaboration to navigate the country’s challenges. With constitutional stakes high and memories of past strife, South Africa stands at a pivotal juncture in its political evolution.

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By S’thembile Cele

South Africa’s fourth-largest political party envisions the country being led by a “grand coalition” if neither the ruling African National Congress nor an opposition bloc win an outright majority in next month’s elections, and that its leaders will be part of the new cabinet. 

“There must be a new discussion, a new engagement between political parties as to how do we take the country forward” if none of them win more than half the vote, Velenkosini Hlabisa, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s leader, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg offices on Thursday. “You will need to look as to who can best form a grand coalition.”

Opinion polls suggest support for the ANC will slip below 50% for the first time since it came to power in 1994 in the May 29 vote, a backlash over its failure to tackle high levels of poverty and unemployment, slipshod government services and rolling blackouts. While the IFP, Democratic Alliance, ActionSA and eight other parties came together under the banner of the Multi-Party Charter last year to try and achieve that aim, they’re also unlikely to be able to govern on their own. 

Under South African law, a new government must be formed within 14 days of elections being declared and a failure to do so may trigger a constitutional crisis. A number of analysts have suggested that a tie-up between the ANC and IFP would be the most natural fit. 

A post-elections coalition that includes just two parties that win marginally more than half the vote would likely be unstable and unsustainable, and it should ideally encompass a broader grouping, Hlabisa said. The inclusion of the ANC would be palatable, as it will be a different party from the current one and be subjected to checks and balances, he said. 

The IFP’s primary goal is to “get a new government to bring change in our country,” Hlabisa said. “But should things not work that way, you cannot afford to have a country at a standstill.” 

He considers it unlikely that the ANC will agree a pact with the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters, the third-largest party, because the two have struggled to work together at the municipal level.

The ANC and IFP fought an undeclared civil war in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was fueled by the apartheid government and claimed thousands of lives before a truce was agreed. The two rivals went on to share power for a decade after White-minority rule ended.

The IFP won 3.4% of the vote in the last national elections in 2019, and 16% in its main stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal, the second-most populous province. The party, which espouses federalism and a free-market economy, has made inroads since then, winning a number of municipal council seats from the ANC. 

Hlabisa ruled out the option of the IFP bartering for positions for its officials in KwaZulu-Natal in exchange for bringing the ANC back to power nationally “through the back door” if the electorate rejects them.

He also downplayed the risk of election violence in KwaZulu-Natal. 

“There are systems to ensure that peace and stability is maintained” and there have only been isolated incidents of violence so far, he said. “Whoever loses the election will have to respect the will of the people.”

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