n Journal of African Elections - Party opposition perpetually on the verge of promise : South Africa's election 2009

Volume 9, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-4700



National and provincial elections in South Africa, 1994 to 2009, became characterised by elusive opposition party quests to dent the electoral dominance of the African National Congress (ANC). There was ebb and flow in the fortunes of both continuous and new opposition parties as they rallied to capture significant electoral ground from the ANC. In this setting, the article poses the question whether Election 2009 delivered evidence of 'game-breaking' performances by opposition parties - feats that dented or showed the potential to harm the ANC's commanding electoral majorities. The answer, explored in detail in the analysis, is ambiguous. On the one hand, the 2009 election trends show hitherto unimagined lapses in ANC performance. On the other, the opposition parties were continuously unable to make profound electoral imprints. The ANC suffered certain setbacks, but retained commanding majorities. Explanatory factors include the serial organisational lapses of old and new opposition initiatives, along with the existence of a powerful parallel non-electoral world of democracy and opposition in South Africa - a world in which opposition politics is enacted within the ANC Tripartite Alliance, and between the ANC and citizens in the between-election periods. The ANC's ability to conduct redeeming election campaigns also helps it to retain its status as 'chosen' governing party, while further sealing the fate of opposition parties, from one election to the next. Hence, election 2009 delivered changes in the ANC-opposition party power ratio - symbolising a turning point, with the ANC having moved beyond its electoral peak yet falling short of assuming a watershed-change character.

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