Parties, parties everywhere but little robust election debate

South Africa

SA’s political party scene is very vibrant. Parties on offer cover a broad political spectrum. Voters are indeed spoiled for choice. But numerous options do not necessarily translate into alternatives.

As things stand, a record number of 48 parties will appear on the ballot paper at the May 8 polls. That’s a lot of paper and ink, which should concern the environmentally conscious among us.

What should be of greater concern is how the average voter is able to wade through the plethora of propositions in any meaningful way.

Various broadcast media in the lead-up to elections have made provision for parties, even the most obscure on the national political stage, to showcase their wares.

Even so, a three- to five-minute elevator pitch is nowhere near sufficient to get into the detail of what parties are offering to address the challenges plaguing the economy and society in general.

Having a huge number of parties show interest in participating in the political system is not an evil in itself.

For one, it should be commended.

South Africans are willing to band together behind ideas they feel strongly about. They are passionate about experimenting with those ideas to try to bring about change. Society is also open to different views and perspectives.

There is still a great deal of tolerance for diversity despite the tensions – racial in the main – that have dogged the country in recent times.

There is also something to be said about the management of the electoral process. Prospective political parties are not hamstrung by cumbersome regulations and requirements and the qualification threshold is not unnecessarily onerous.

Outside of the barrier that the unavailability of funding can be, there is a fair and equal chance at representation for communities and groups on different rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

This is good for democracy.

That said, the noisiness of the political party environment has the disadvantage of drowning out robust debate.

It is almost impossible to extricate concrete solutions to the very real problems.

It is little wonder that political parties in this context are obsessed with grabbing the headlines, stooping to sensationalism.

Subjects such as harassment, abuse of power and position, and corruption are handled with frivolity.

Critical questions regarding the restructuring of state-owned enterprises, transformation, redress and redistribution are attempted as if they were merely essay questions. Political parties are taken by their leaders and sometime insignificant – yet well meaning, of course – supporters as a soapbox to draw attention to themselves.

This is not good for democracy.

There are currently only 13 parties represented in the National Assembly.

This figure has not shifted very much since the first general elections in 1994.

It is unlikely that this will change following the May 8 polls. Political parties ought to consider this fact seriously, as it has implications for the effectiveness of the country’s political system. There is a need for a consolidation of effort on both the right of centre and left of centre.

The centre is already saturated by the broad church status of the governing ANC. Because of the diluted nature of the opposition, the ANC gets to play to the left and to the right.

This should motivate opposition parties to embark on consensus building, if indeed they are interested in providing more than just choice, but a plausible and viable alternative.

Source – SowetanLIVE

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