DA’s ‘doomsday coalition’ agenda insufficient to inspire many voters

Opposition to an ANC-EFF government is touted as the main reason for DA's moonshot pact.

The parties in and around the Democratic Alliance (DA)’s proposed moonshot pact have been rocked by another bad week of infighting in the Johannesburg council.

Initially some parties, including ActionSA and the Inkatha Freedom Party, expressed their interest in participating in the pact and a concomitant national convention to determine the contours and functioning of such a pact.

The recent failure by the pact partners to come to agreement on who to place on the Johannesburg mayoral ticket, causing ActionSA to consider leaving the pact, is cause for concern.

One of the most common reasons for the formation of an electoral pact between otherwise independent parties is to keep a third party or candidate from gaining power.

Indeed, the DA’s call for a moonshot pact has been framed almost exclusively in terms of avoiding a “doomsday coalition” between the ANC and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

An electoral pact tends to be designed to ensure the parties to the pact do not compete with each other – at least not as they would under normal circumstances – but pour their resources and campaigns into defeating the third party.

ALSO READ: ANC is going to need Malema’s EFF

Another important function of an electoral pact is that it signals to voters that the pact parties are safe votes that will not end up cooperating with the third party.

Gayton McKenzie, leader of the Patriotic Alliance, by recently tweeting that he takes an entirely pragmatic approach and will work with any other party in the right circumstances, therefore excluded his party from forming a substantive part of the moonshot pact.

In this sense, the PA is not a safe vote.

Electoral pacts tend to make more sense in first-past-the-post electoral systems. Pact parties stand down in certain electoral districts in favour of other parties that have a greater chance of obtaining the coveted 50%+1 of the vote in that district.

In a proportional system like South Africa’s, there are no majoritarian electoral districts in parliamentary elections and thus there is no reason for any pact party to sacrifice an election for another pact party.

But an electoral pact could fulfil another important purpose in a proportional system. Pacts could mitigate and, with some luck, end the infighting that has characterised South African coalition politics for the last year.

This can be done by establishing binding mechanisms within the pact – rather than merely between the parties – to resolve disputes.

Pacts could then effectively direct limited party resources toward fighting the third party rather than campaigning against fellow pact partners.

Elections analyst Dawie Scholtz recently asked on Twitter what a moonshot pact’s economic policies would be.

In the absence of a clear statement by the pact, the electorate likely assumes the DA’s economic policies would be pursued.

This is one of the difficulties of an electoral pact, particularly when it comprises parties with quite divergent values and policies: what unites these parties?

Opposition to an ANC-EFF government is touted as the main reason for the moonshot pact, but mere opposition would be insufficient to inspire many voters, particularly former ANC voters.

More is required: an optimistic vision for the future of South Africa – or at least for the five years after 2024.

On the other hand, parties to an electoral pact should avoid a meaty manifesto, as this would undermine the individual parties’ values and policies.

A meaty manifesto runs the risk of gradually transforming the collective of many diverse parties that each represent clear ideological or demographic constituencies, into a single big-tent party that – ineffectively – seeks to be everything to everyone. In my mind, there is an obvious solution in perhaps the most obvious place: the constitution.

Section 1 of the constitution is a statement of values to which, presumably, all political parties that have not declared open hostility to our constitutional democracy subscribe.

READ MORE: An alternative to messy political coalitions

These values, in order of appearance, are: sovereignty, democracy, human dignity, equality, human rights and freedoms, nonracialism and nonsexism, constitutional supremacy, the rule of law, universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections, a multi-party system of government, accountability, responsiveness and openness.

As an ardent free-marketeer, I find it unfortunate that no explicit mention of free enterprise is made here, but one hopes that the broad opposition would necessarily read a freer market economy into human dignity and human rights and freedoms.

But a clear commitment by the moonshot pact to these values might help the public gain an understanding of what the pact will, hopefully, endeavour to do in office: restore constitutional integrity and stability.

Understanding the nature of an electoral pact and uniting the pact around a clear and public manifesto soon – before the 2024 electioneering season begins in earnest – could help solve the ructions that keep flaring up between the pact parties.

It might be time for the moonshot pact’s slated national convention to be held, ideally behind closed doors.

Van Staden is deputy head of policy research at the Institute of Race Relations