floor-crossing party over

Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

The days when politicians could ditch their party to join another without losing their seats in the legislatures are numbered.

Three bills that abolish this practice are up for public debate when the third term of parliament starts today.

The bills are supported by all political parties and it appears that the public also supports the bills, judging from the lack of submissions objecting to the bills.

The only two submissions made by members of the public to parliament's justice portfolio committee also support the bill.

If the three bills are passed, then floor-crossing in the national assembly, provincial legislatures and municipal councils will be outlawed.

Floor-crossing first took place in 2002 when the constitutional court ruled that politicians should have a 15-day "window" twice every five years in which they could defect from their party to join another one.

The then Democratic Party mooted the idea in 2000, saying that politicians should have the freedom to leave their party if it did not live up to their expectations. The ANC then objected to the idea.

But floor-crossing was quickly shown to benefit the ANC most when the New National Party quit the DA and its members flocked to the ANC, handing the ANC control of the Western Cape legislature.

After a groundswell of public opinion against floor-crossing, the ANC decided at its Polokwane conference last year to abolish the practice.

Idasa's political analyst Jonathan Faull says that "floor-crossing is bad news for democracy".

Faull says that each seat in parliament is equal to more than 39000 votes for a particular party. The wishes of these voters are nullified every time a member of parliament crosses the floor to another party.

He says floor-crossing allowed political parties such as the National Democratic Convention (Nadeco) to win seats in the national assembly and the KwaZulu-Natal legislature even though nobody ever voted for them in an election.

Patricia de Lille crossed the floor from the PAC to form a new party, the Independent Democrats.

The new bills will also put an end to political parties merging, or splitting.