Why we hardly hear from the smaller political parties

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With less than three weeks to go to until voting day, Lia Marx is still struggling to decide who to vote for.  Is there any value to voting for a smaller political party, she asks. And, if so why is their voice so marginal in the media?

The ANC is still the best poised to govern South Africa, but the long shadow of corruption and internal tensions doesn’t help Cyril’s Ramaphosa’s mammoth task of restoring investor confidence and jumpstarting the economy.

The DA is also caught up in its own internal leadership crisis and it doesn’t seem to offer the electorate much more than finger pointing at the ANC. 

The EFF is likely to increase its share of the electorate, but its politics of disruption fall short of offering tangible solutions to South Africa’s acute problems. Its violence — physical and psychological (consider the Karima Brown/Malema issue) — is also worrying.

Perhaps the time has come to look beyond the Big Three and consider the smaller political parties. But how much do we really know about them?

When the majority of media coverage focuses on the big ticket parties, we forget that 48 political parties will be contesting the national election on 8 May. Several more parties will also be contesting the provincial elections.

Why don’t these other parties get as much media attention? After all, the legislation allocates each political party ten 50-second timeslots to promote their campaign material. Still, that does not account for the dearth of reporting on some of these parties. 

Several reasons account for why we are less likely to see election campaign activities on some of the smaller parties.

Funding

It costs money to contest elections, hold political rallies, campaign and target particular sectors of the voting population. Each party running in the national election needs a R200,000 deposit and a further R45,000 for each province they plan to run in. This means that a political party that wants to run nationally and in all nine provinces must fork out R600,000.

The bigger the party, the larger is pool for eliciting funds to finance an election.  All parties represented in parliament are allocated election funding proportionate to the number of MPs they have. Those parties without an elected MP or running for the first time do not receive any state funding. 

Private funding further accounts for a party’s ability to run showy election campaigns. For the Big Three, access to funding is not as much of a problem as who is funding them. 

In January, the President signed the Political Party Funding Act, which compels political parties to reveal the sources of their funding.  However, IEC announced earlier this month that it had “put the law on hold for now.” I’m not entirely sure why.

Fortunately, My Vote Counts, a non-profit company dedicated to improving electoral and political accountability, transparency and inclusiveness, published a report looking at some the sources of private funding for the largest five political parties. It is worrying that some foreign governments (Saudi Arabia, China, Angola) and other unsavoury entities such as the Guptas were cited to be funding, not just the ANC but other parties as well.

The origins of funding for the smaller parties is not currently available. If we knew these income streams it would be a good indication of their political leanings, their connections, and the role these would be likely to play if elected to parliament.

Headliners vs Incognitos

Some smaller parties are well-known because they have made headlines, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Hence we are more likely to know about the existence of the Black First Land First (BLF) Movement and Patricia de Lille’s new GOOD party, than we are to hear about the International Revelation Congress or the National People’s Ambassadors, for example. 

Online Footprint

Some parties are better than others when it comes to their social media campaigns and online presence. Some parties are not even targeting the comparatively low percentage of the connected and educated online generation, but are going directly to their grassroots support bases. If we don’t move in those circles, we’re unlikely to hear very much about them.

Sound Discernment

I do think that some of the smaller political parties have something to offer South Africa. Perhaps, the time has come to give them a share of the pie.

Daily Maverick published a good overview of these parties (here and here), but it is far better to go to their websites and social media platforms to find out more about them.

If we want to build a South Africa for its children, we should start looking at parties that speak the language of inclusion, economic regeneration, discipline, and of furthering the rights of marginalised groups. There are only a handful, but the good news is that they exist.

Not all small parties are equal — be careful. Some go directly against South Africa’s constitution. Others have very particular concerns that can add value to the national conversation, while others such narrow interests that it is hard to envision what they could bring to the national table.

We can’t expect any of these smaller parties to actually win the election, but giving them a few seats in parliament could bring some renewal to the political table and its decision making processes.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

 

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Why we hardly hear from the smaller political parties