South Africa’s new parliament to elect president Friday

South Africa’s new parliament to elect president Friday

South Africa’s newly elected parliament is to convene for the first time on Friday, authorities said, as political parties scramble to form a coalition after general elections produced no outright winner.

Lawmakers in the 400-seat National Assembly in Cape Town will be called to appoint a speaker and start the process of electing the country’s president – a task that could prove trickier than usual this year.

For the first time since the advent of democracy in 1994, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC) lost its absolute parliamentary majority in the May 29 vote.

The party of late anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela won 40 per cent of the vote – its lowest-ever score – and now needs the backing of other parties to govern.

“The first sitting of the National Assembly shall be on Friday, 14 June 2024,” Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in an order released on Monday to the media by the justice ministry.

The ANC has already indicated it wants to form a government of national unity with a broad group of opposition parties, ranging from the far right to the hard left.

The proposal met a cool reception from some last week, with the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) initially dismissing the idea of joining hands with rivals holding radically different political views, such as the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA).

But talks continued over the weekend and the top leaders of some parties, including the DA, were holding internal discussions on Monday to decide a way forward.

In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa, who went into the election hoping to secure a second term, urged all groups to work together.

“As the country prepares for a new democratic administration, all parties need to work together to sustain the momentum of reform, growth and transformation,” he said.

“A stable and effective government committed to economic reform will enable us to build an inclusive and growing economy that benefits all South Africans.”

‘Betrayal’
Not everyone was heeding the call.

Former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party – which came third in the election, winning 14.6 per cent of the vote and 58 seats – said it was to file a court appeal to prevent the new parliament from convening, pending a separate complaint over alleged election irregularities.

“Allowing the National Assembly to sit amidst such significant doubts on the legal validity of the election process would be a betrayal of the electorate’s trust,” said MK spokesman Nhlamulo Ndhlela.

As MK lawmakers vowed to boycott the session if it were to go ahead, parliament’s spokesman Moloto Mothapo said the body had “cancelled all arrangements for accommodation and flights” in Cape Town for them “to avoid incurring fruitless and wasteful expenditure”.

Last week, the ANC said it had “repeatedly” reached out to MK for coalition talks but received no response.

MK had earlier said it would not back an ANC-led government if Ramaphosa remained at the helm. But the ANC plans to keep him.

Zuma and Ramaphosa have been divided by a bitter rivalry ever since the former was ousted by his own party under a cloud of corruption allegations in 2018 and replaced by the latter.

The ANC will have 159 members in the National Assembly, down from 230 in 2019.

Together with the DA, which won 87 seats with a liberal, free-market agenda, it would hold a comfortable majority in parliament.

But the prospect has caused divisions within the ANC, as some see such a deal as being at odds with the party’s left-leaning traditions.

Any agreement with the EFF, which won 39 seats and supports land redistribution and the nationalisation of key economic sectors, would require the support of at least another party.

The ANC retains the respect of many South Africans for its leading role in overthrowing white-minority rule.

Its progressive social welfare and black economic empowerment policies are credited by supporters with helping millions of black families out of poverty.

But many voters deserted it at last month’s election amid widespread discontent at high unemployment, rampant crime, graft scandals and power shortages.

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