The president of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) has called for transparency in the drafting of coalition agreements between political parties.

Bheki Stoffile says that in this way the public will play a role in holding coalition partners accountable and will act as a deterrent to political parties that violate coalition agreements.

Some municipalities were riddled with instability as coalitions crumbled. Experts called for political maturity to ensure the success of coalitions.

Coalition governments remain in the spotlight as the battle for municipalities continues.

With electoral support on the wane, the 2024 general election is predicted to fail to produce an outright winner.

Last year, the ANC lost control of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, leaving opposition parties to run the metros.

However, the coalitions were not without problems. This was most evident in the DA-led city of Johannesburg, which saw former speaker Vasco da Gama ousted in a no-confidence vote that left the party on the boil.

Local government expert Tshepang Molale says: “If you look closely at one of the motivating factors as to why coalition agreements were reached in the last municipal elections, it can be argued that the opposition political parties were rigid. They have been united in their efforts to overthrow the ANC instead of looking at how they can strengthen and unify their different political ideologies so that they can be more effective and efficient in their governance. This is why some metros in the country are currently witnessing the fallout of some councilors voting with other political parties to remove municipal speakers and municipal mayors. this is just one of the challenges facing us in the coalition government.”

With coalitions a reality at the local government level, the idea that this system of government could be scaled up to the national level is gaining momentum.

However, with the African National Congress (ANC) expected to fall below 50 percent in national elections, the prospects for a successful multi-party government still look bleak.

Political scientist Ongama Mtimko says: “Voters have lost faith in the dominant party system and in fact in some cases have lost faith in the political system itself. So politicians need to make coalitions work, that’s where voters are at the moment and it doesn’t look like that behavior will change any time soon to the point where I expect coalitions to be just the beginning at the national level in 2024 and the transformations taking place in the political system may only crystallize in the 2030s to either become a two-party state or a de facto multi-party democracy.”

Coalition agreements are not legally binding on the parties that enter into them, and a party exit could have a ripple effect, leaving South Africans vulnerable.

In this regard, the question arises: does the country need a legal framework for concluding coalition agreements?

Public policy expert Mandla Isaacs says. “It’s very much a political issue, it’s not something you can legislate or through policy. In a PR system like ours, it actually lends itself to… The one dominant party that we’ve had to date is not really the norm when it comes to PR systems, and you can’t have some law that just guarantees that will function stably and coherently. At the end of the day, this is a political matter.”

With coalition governments now a common feature of the country’s political landscape, their success ultimately bodes well for South Africans, with national elections only 19 months away for political parties to find each other.

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