Analysis: SA’s national elections since 1994
South Africans might be inclined to say 'same old' when looking at the 2014 election results - the ANC has retained its dominant position, and the DA remains the official opposition, with a sizeable difference between the two. But there are definite trends starting to develop - not seismic, but gradual, and with the potential to change South Africa's electoral outcomes in the future.
Firstly, the dominant ruling party, the ANC, has continued its steady decline from its electoral high watermark of 69% of the vote (translating into 279 out of 400 seats) in 2004 to 65% (264 seats) in 2009, and currently with 62% (249 seats). Thus since 2004 the ANC has lost 30 seats in parliament.
There are a number of reasons for this.
South Africa has a dominant party system, where one party dominates in an ostensibly democratic system over a prolonged period of time. Since these ruling parties are almost 'guaranteed' to win, competitiveness is unable to play its pressure-to-deliver role. These parties become complacent of the ballot box, where lack of responsiveness, lack of delivery and poor governance should have been punished.
However, since it is still a democracy, continued dominance is not an inevitability as is becoming evident in South Africa. The electorate is beginning to express its uneasiness with R200-million of taxpayers' money being used on private homesteads, textbooks not being delivered on time (if at all) to schools, connected individuals operating outside the radar of the rule of law, and the lack of access to basic services for many.
The unmet expectations of millions is starting to come to bear on the ANC. The party has made extensive promises, arguably beyond that which the governing party of a state should make. These promises have created high expectations, increased state dependency, while concomitantly insufficient delivery. This combination translates into a volatile situation, which has spurned violent service delivery protests and the growth of a radical party in the form of the EFF.
The ANC's future will depend greatly on the next five years. Will it start to yield to the increasing competition and become responsive by delivering and reigning in corruption? At the same time it will need to start managing the expectations of its electorate, by encouraging and developing a citizenry which is more individually responsible for its future than dependent on the state.
The next two trends are interlinked: the entrenching of the DA as the official opposition, and the further decline in support of smaller parties, with a few exceptions (notably the UDM and FF+).
The DA has steadily increased its support base from a paltry seven seats in 1994, to 67 seats in 2009, to 89 seats in 2014 with the attaining of 22% of the national vote.
Where competition was not initially a pressure-to-deliver for the ANC, without having the liberation credentials of the ANC, the DA had no choice but to deliver. Its good management of the Western Cape, and the increase in its support base, is a testament to this. However, while it is starting to chip very slowly into the ANC's support base, the DA's key aim has been to aggregate the opposition under its banner, and this has led to the decimation of some of the smaller parties.
Unfortunately in promoting the idea of an aggregated opposition against the ANC, it falls for the politics of fear; motivating an electorate to vote on the basis of fear, rather than for the issues, policies and values they deem important.
As the DA and many analysts will applaud the gradual move towards a two-party system, it is time that the electorate counts the costs of such a move. Building a strong opposition does not mean it need all be under the banner of one party. Coalitions are also a viable option for South Africa, as they ensure greater representation and inclusion of various interests. South Africa's proportional electoral system was initially chosen because of this particular strength; it is very inclusive and allows for broad representation. Smaller parties bring in the different values, principles and interests of South Africans. They actually serve to make our democracy more representative, and pressure the bigger parties to be more accountable and inclusive.
The final trend, was the replacing of Cope (as many fled back to the ANC fold) with the EFF as the new-kid-on-the-block, while AgangSA hardly made an impact. Julius Malema's EFF won 6% of the vote, attaining 25 seats in parliament, assuring that parliament will never be the same again.
Where Cope and AgangSA promote more pragmatic options and the furtherance of principles endorsed in the Constitution, their poor performance may point to a move towards the susceptibility of the disgruntled and emaciated to radicalism and militancy.
In the years ahead, the ANC will need to improve its delivery track record, reign in the scourge of corruption and create a less state-dependent society.
In the meantime opposition parties would do well to gain experience in governing, legislating and working together as a political power void may be on the horizon.
Dr Nicola de Jager is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch.