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By unknown | Apr 23, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Susan Booysen

Susan Booysen

South Africa has reached the final stretch to Election 2009 and its 23,1million voters have had the chance to rule on one of the most historic developments yet in post-apartheid politics.

The specific question will be whether Cope was a fleeting, six-month miracle, paralysed by the Mbeki shadow, or whether the party heralded an era of legitimate opposition to the ANC.

The ANC-Cope contest has been fierce. Cope played on perceptions of the ANC as arrogant in power, often disconnected from the masses, disrespectful of many of the gains of liberation, and inhabited by comrades with dubious commitment beyond self-enrichment.

The ANC retaliated. Cope was the continuation of the Mbeki third-term project, could not accept defeat through the processes of internal democracy and was driven by a sinister agenda.

It is only the voter verdict of yesterday that could bring a cease-fire - even if only to the extent of determining the relative popular sizes and thereby spelling out terms of mutual engagement for the two warring parties.

Voters and citizens in general have so far given two sets of indications of how these parties will fare come Election Day. The four sets of municipal by-elections, from December last year to barely a week ago, suggest that Cope will not supersede the ANC, yet will be the opposition party that chews away at the ANC's previously daunting majorities and do so in a way that no other opposition party in previous elections has managed.

Available opinion polls of South African voters confirm these likely trends. Quality surveys to date (once undeclared voters have been allocated to their most likely party perches) say that the ANC might forfeit its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The second indication is that the DA is currently narrowly ahead of Cope in the race for the second position, but that Cope would emerge as a strong contender and probably be well ahead of the rest of the opposition.

In making the critical choices to confirm or refute these early indications of results, the voters will signal to parties how they judge their claims and mutual criticisms.

They will say whether Cope's early-on, clear positioning on procedural policies resonated with doubts of a substantial proportion of the voters. Cope's criticisms of the ANC focused on disrespect for the Constitution, rule of law, practices of corrupt and bungling government. Later in the campaign, these claims became subdued when Cope had to fend off ANC assaults.

The ANC conducted a formidable counter-campaign. It pinned Cope down through names challenges, created an unaccommodating campaign environment, and fed a personality cult around Jacob Zuma.

It also acknowledged shortcomings and issued multiple reassurances of its corrected ways. The prolonged campaign, which effectively started with Cope's emergence, gave it time to regroup and respond.

In this way, and irrespective of Cope's eventual electoral performance, the party had arguably already played the role of an effective opposition party.

What Cope is likely to take from the ANC in the form of chunks of support, it has also given back to the ANC in potency gained from mobilisation against the obligatory election enemy.

lBooysen is a professor in the Graduate School of Public and Development Management, Wits.


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