THE BLOG

Why The ANC Must Change How It Elects Its Leaders

The party needs to explore other electoral models, such as the primary system used in the United States and France.

29/12/2016 16:59 SAST | Updated 29/12/2016 16:59 SAST
Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images
President Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma during the national Womens Day celebrations at the Union Buildings on August 09, 2016 in Pretoria, South Africa. August 09, 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the historic 1956 Womens March on the Union Buildings against the discriminatory pass laws. (Photo )

The 2016 local government elections provided a spark and sense of excitement about our politics that has been missing since the birth of our democracy. The most hotly contested elections since 1994 brought about regime change in Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane. The large-scale defeat of the African National Congress has left the party in a precarious position going into next year. We have now seen that the highway to victory in 2019 has become rather congested and the governing party can ill afford to put forth a compromised candidate for president.

The ANC will elect its new president at the party's 54th national conference in December next year. There will be about 4,500 branch members that will descend on the conference to choose their new leaders. The democratic process of such a system does come into question, though; once one takes into account the recent state capture findings that have hit the nation like yet another gut punch. Branches can be bought and sold by big business for political advancement and the 'right' leaders can be installed.

Ferial Haffajee wrote an article underlining this very problem where she recalls seeing Atul Gupta at a local ANC branch. When branches can be influenced so easily the system becomes compromised. This way of electing leaders means that the ANC's base members don't really get too much of a say in who they want to be their leaders and president. The power and will of the people have been diminished. The current electoral system comes from a bygone era where the party had good and honourable leaders who genuinely wanted to advance the party and indeed the movement of the time.

The ANC might want to look into electoral reform with regards to the way they choose their leaders and candidate for president in national elections. The system of party primaries is something to look into. Primaries are a system by which members of the party stand as a candidate to be the leader of the party and are elected directly by all of the party's members.

If the ANC were to have a primary, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize who are three of the top contenders to be president would be on a level playing field, as they would have to appeal directly to party members for votes.

The system is used in both the United States and France to choose a parties candidate for president. The effectiveness of such a system can be seen in France where the unpopular incumbent president, François Hollande, decided not to seek re-election for his party's nomination for president in next year's election due to dwindling approval ratings. Had President Zuma been able to stand for a third term as president he might have faced the same difficulties as Hollande.

If the ANC were to have a primary, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize who are three of the top contenders to be president would be on a level playing field, as they would have to appeal directly to party members for votes. The ANC has over 750,000 members if they each received a vote for who they wanted to be president we might find that the ANC produces the kind of leader who could deliver a strong victory in national elections.

This type of system would not only work in the ANC but it could be an effective model for all of South Africa's political parties. Primaries hold candidates to a higher standard and ensure that the true will of the people is expressed. You could even say that it is almost the perfect democratic system.