Most defectors will cross floor to the ANC again

Mariette le Roux

Mariette le Roux

The ANC is set to entrench its political dominance with a 15-day window period opening tomorrow to allow elected officials to swap party allegiance without losing their seats.

The opposition is likely to be further fragmented because representatives at all levels of government are free to cross floors.

Though analysts do not expect major power shifts, the small parties will be the biggest losers because the ANC is shielded by a clause requiring at least 10percent of a party's members to defect simultaneously for any switch-over to be valid.

With 293 out of 400 seats in parliament, it is highly unlikely that nearly 30 ANC MPs will abscond, while representatives of most of the smaller parties require only one or two members to cross the floor.

"If we go by past experiences, most defectors are likely to join the ANC," said Denis Kadima, executive director of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

"People won't go for parties that don't have a future. They will opt for a party that will guarantee them getting back in parliament."

The DA has 47 seats in parliament.

Political researcher Jonathan Faull from the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) said the ANC was attractive in terms of size, stability and longevity for representatives wishing to leave "sinking boat" parties.

"Obviously, in some cases expedience is a factor. People think they are more likely to get ahead in the ANC."

Floor crossing, initially precluded by an anti-defection clause in the 1996 constitution, was legalised in 2002 despite a legal challenge and public ire at the perceived trampling of voters' rights.

Four pieces of legislation were passed to allow for two 15-day defection periods between five-yearly elections.

The change enabled the former New National Party to abandon an alliance with the former Democratic Party and be absorbed into the ANC.

Idasa research shows that 1100 public representatives have switched sides since the inception of floor crossing. The ANC has been the big winner, taking control in two of nine provinces previously out of its reach.

In the most recent floor-crossing round in 2005, the ANC gained an outright majority in the Western Cape for the first time. It also gained 14 seats in parliament while the DA lost three. Five new parties were formed.

"The general trend was a further fragmentation and weakening of the opposition and the real and relative strengthening of the ruling ANC," an Idasa document said.

It argued that the 25 MPs who crossed the floor nationally in 2005 nullified the intention of nearly one million voters.

"Floor crossing undermines the principle of participatory democracy envisioned by the constitution: representatives shuffle across the aisles of power without any imperative to consult, or be held accountable to citizens, or their opinions." - Sapa-AFP