“Like it or not, the DA will lead the opposition,” – Nicholas Woode-Smith on the fallacy of equality in coalitions

By Nicholas Woode-Smith

On the 3rd of April, Herman Mashaba of ActionSA (ASA) condemned John Steenhuisen’s (DA) call for a “Moonshot pact” of likeminded parties led by the DA. Rather than a DA-led coalition, Mashaba has called for all members of this coalition to be considered equals.

This is all nice and fanciful thinking, but it is also not founded in reality. No party is created equally. And in the eyes of voters, parties are very much of lesser and greater importance. Why should the DA be given the same sort of power in a coalition when it holds most of the votes? Not only does it hold the most real sway over the legislature, but it also reflects the will of more voters.

And at the end of the day, that is what matters most. Parties are not peculiar aliens that just appear out of nowhere. They are placed in their positions by voters. Voters who have placed their trust in these parties to do the right thing.

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Of all the opposition parties, the DA has the most votes. This means that more voters have placed their trust and their political will in the DA than any other opposition party.

Yet, in local governments and opposition coalitions, one-seat parties with only a handful of votes have threatened the entire opposition in order to gain political relevance, positions of power, or just to rock the boat for the sake of it.

They claim to be representing their voters. But why should the few hundred voters of a tiny, uppity party be more important than the tens of thousands of votes for the official opposition?

Every voter matters. This is true. And it is important to have small parties represented in government. They represent the interests of minorities, and people who do deserve a voice. But this minority mandate cannot be allowed to threaten the stability of the entire coalition.

Mashaba asks for a coalition of likeminded parties to be one of equals. Yet, it cannot be. For the DA brings the lion share of the votes, resources, and relevance. ASA, FF+ and other parties are welcome only because the opposition is up against a behemoth and needs every single bit of support it can muster.

Rather than demanding equality that does not truly represent political reality, smaller parties should be working in tandem with the DA for what really matters: stability, peace and prosperity.

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The ACDP demonstrated some profound political maturity when it responded to it not receiving any positions on the Tshwane Mayoral Committee with grace and decorum. Rather than threatening to leave the coalition, like so many other parties would, the ACDP spoke about the importance of keeping a stable coalition to deliver services to voters. This is the sort of responsibility and dignity that South Africans need from their political parties.

The DA has been accused a lot of being heavy-handed and arrogant towards the smaller parties within their coalitions. Perhaps, they could be more diplomatic. Politics is the art of compromise, after all. But compromise with one-seat parties that just happen to hold the key to a stable coalition or collapse should not equate to an assumption of equality between all opposition parties.

The DA governs South Africa’s most successful municipalities. The comparative success of the Western Cape has proven that the DA knows how to govern. Again, and again. They are proven administrators, coalition builders, governors, and politicians.

There is nothing equal between the DA and the other opposition parties. Equality in a coalition would be a pretentious farce. A license to be arrogant for smaller parties that have earned no right to be arrogant.

Any attempt to unseat the ANC and prevent an ANC/EFF coalition will need to be led by the DA. That is an inexcusable fact. Opposition parties will need to accept this. Barring any miracles or apocalypses, the DA will be leading the opposition vote in 2024 and will be the majority coalition member of any opposition coalition that forms.

In anticipation for this coalition, why should the DA pretend it is among equals? It has the resources, the clout, the reputation. What the smaller parties have is merely the remaining seats needed to outpace the ANC/EFF. Important. Of course. But not nearly as important as the lion share of votes needed to form the coalition in the first place.

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The DA is called arrogant. But is it not truly arrogant to represent a tiny fraction of the vote, yet act as if that is more important than the majority? And is it not worse to sabotage any truly concerted effort to unseat the disastrous rule of the ANC? All in a vain attempt to achieve a fake semblance of equality.

The DA will lead the opposition in 2024. That much is certain. Smaller parties must realise the importance of a united front, or step out of the way.

*Nicholas Woode-Smith is an economic historian, political analyst, and author.