Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
2 minute read
27 Apr 2019
6:00 am

Can Tony Leon save the DA?

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

The political warhorse is back, but there is some debate over whether the former leader of the party can make a difference in the elections.

Former DA leader Tony Leon. Picture: Gallo Images

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is trying to win back the “minority vote” with its move to bring back former leader Tony Leon, an analyst has said.

Against the backdrop of a recent poll suggesting its support base had fallen by at least 10%, the DA brought back Leon from political retirement to boost its national election campaign.

Political analyst Andre Duvenhage has attributed the move to the slipping numbers, especially in the Western Cape, where he predicts the ANC and EFF could easily make a 50% majority.

The DA disagrees, with its spokesperson Mabine Seabe saying: “There is no basis to [that argument]. Tony has been campaigning for the party in previous elections and in the past two weeks, so anyone who can … must campaign for the party.”

But according to Duvenhage, given that the DA’s ideological identity has been blurred by a rise in social democracy and a shift from free market economic ideals, its liberal and conservative support base is slowly backing away and into parties such as Freedom Front Plus.

“When the DA started off and it was led by individuals like Tony Leon as a liberal democratic type party and under Helen Zille, it became more of a social democratic party to accommodate a bigger group in terms of diversity and across the racial spectrum,” said the analyst.

Under Mmusi Maimane, the DA became a more ANC-like party, with similarities between policies.

Ideologically, the DA and ANC may have been different parties but strategically and practically, they don’t seem all that different, said Duvenhage.

The move to bring back Leon has been met with mixed reactions, with some suggesting that the DA had completely lost its liberal values and was no longer the party of two decades ago.

“Two months ago, they had their federal congress where they took a decision on [black economic empowerment] and there are basically two caucuses in the DA, the liberal caucus and the radical one, which is referred to as black caucus, and clearly there were differences,” he said.

“Right now, the DA’s support is sitting at 10% lower than it was before the 2016 elections and they are trying to make those numbers up from the minority vote.

“Tony Leon is being positioned to bring back those votes.”

Whether he can actually do that, Duvenhage has his reservations.

“I don’t think so. He might be able to make a small contribution but it is not going to make a significant difference.”

The opinion that Leon was meant to lure the party’s old support base back was shared on Thursday by Professor Susan Booysen.

Booysen said by bringing back Leon, the DA might have received feedback that Maimane was not being accepted by white voters.

“The DA is scrambling to consolidate the old support of whites coming from the old DP and NP.”

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