Last week there were municipal elections and they were very exciting. I’ve written about them a bit in the last few weeks, but my response to Prof. Friedman’s article got me thinking about a better example to illustrate my point than Nelson Mandela Bay metro.
And then it hit me like a threadbare metaphor: Mtubatuba, where all 38 council seats were put to the vote in the May 6 by-elections.
Mtubatuba is perfect. The council was dissolved so voters voted twice (for both ward councillors and PR councillors) just like in a full municipal election. The municipality has 38 seats in total (19 ward, 19 PR) so it’s much smaller than NMB metro. Plus, the municipality is in that part of KwaZulu-Natal where the vote is split three ways between the ANC, IFP and NFP.
If you look at my full review of the May 6 by-elections in Mtubatuba you can see how this last point is linked to the tiny majorities of the ward winners – in four wards there wasn’t a majority at all. Mtubatuba is a great illustration of the dark side of constituency-based seats: a candidate can win less than 50 per cent of the ward vote and still be crowned councillor.
But look at the table below that I prepared in the same format as the NMB metro table. The ward vote giveth to the big parties (ANC and IFP in this case) and the PR vote taketh away and redistributeth back to the small parties (NFP, DA, EFF, AIC):
Starting with the ward votes and seat allocation, the ANC received 49 per cent of the vote but 63 per cent of the seats. The IFP (42 per cent of the vote, 37 per cent of the seats) and the other four parties (1-5 per cent of the vote, absolutely zero seats) were all shafted.
Now to the PR votes and seats (and note that the percentage PR vote attributable to each party doesn’t differ from the ward vote percentages by more than 2 per cent). The ANC received 48 per cent of the PR vote but only 32 per cent of the seats, while the other parties received a proportion of seats that is higher than their share of the PR vote. The NFP in particular only received 4 per cent of the PR vote but got 11 per cent of the PR seats.
Now look at the final vote tally. For each party, their percentage of the total vote is pretty close to their percentage of the total seats in council. If anything, the two bigger parties (ANC and IFP) are penalised slightly. The PR seat allocation formula has overcorrected in favour of the smaller parties.
So there’s a better example, where the ANC did end up winning about 49 per cent of the total vote and could only muster 47 per cent of the seats, leaving itself with three choices: needing a coalition partner to form a majority government, forming a minority government and running the risk of a vote of no confidence, or even (theoretically, not likely) finding itself in opposition to a coalition of all the minority parties.
The calculations won’t be exactly the same in Nelson Mandela Bay metro in 2016, but Mtubatuba is proof that the ANC doesn’t have to fall far below 50 per cent in a municipality to risk losing the municipality.