Maimane U-turn good for the DA

The Democratic Alliance's Mmusi Maimane.
The Democratic Alliance's Mmusi Maimane.

Sanity has finally prevailed in the DA with its leader Mmusi Maimane abandoning his ill-conceived bid to stand for the premiership of Western Cape in next year's general elections.

Maimane was very well within his rights to make himself available as a candidate for the post, given the fact that the DA constitution allows for its leader to stand for any public position.

It is also true that a precedent had already been set in 2009 when then party leader Helen Zille opted to run for the provincial premiership instead of taking on then ANC leader Jacob Zuma in the race for the country's presidency.

But the context of the Zille decision was that of a DA election strategy that involved having the party winning the control of a province and then using that base to showcase how the party would govern differently from the ANC.

That objective was achieved after the 2009 elections and, subsequently, the strategy helped the party grow its support in the province and metros in other provinces such as Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.

As the largest opposition party in the country, the DA's main objective for the upcoming national elections should be that of increasing its national footprint while trying to pull the ruling ANC down to less than 50% of the vote.

This the DA cannot do if its leader, the very face of its campaign, is focussed on Western Cape and not directly taking on president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is almost certainly going to be the ANC's presidential candidate.

Maimane's bid to replace Zille would have also backfired for the party in Gauteng, a province where a DA-led government does look to some a possibility after the 2019 polls.

By choosing to run in Western Cape and not Gauteng, Maimane was sending a message that, despite controlling the two large metros in the province, he is not convinced that his party can unseat premier David Makhura's government at the polls.

For its own sake, the DA would be hoping that the Western Cape saga was Maimane's last serious misstep ahead of the polls. Any more tactical blunders would hand victory to a resurgent Ramaphosa ANC on a platter.

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