Partisans of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) are expressing confidence the party would be victorious in this year's general election. They say the victories in the recent by-election is an indication that the party is set to maintain its two thirds majority in parliament despite a recent breakaway faction that has formed a new party. But the breakaway party, the Congress of the People (COPE) led by loyalists of former President Thabo Mbeki said it was encouraged by the two wards it won from the ruling ANC in the by-election. Political analyst Adams Habib told reporter Peter Clottey that it is not fair to expect the new party to win the upcoming general election.
"Obviously the ANC would say that and it's worth bearing in mind that they have won some election. But it's also worth bearing in mind that in the Western Cape in December, COPE performed exceedingly well in by-elections in the Western Cape. And does it mean that COPE would give the ANC a run for their money? The big question is what do we mean by that? Is it fair to expect an opposition party that emerged in October to win the elections? I don't think that that is fair neither do I think it is possible," Habib pointed out.
He said it would be difficult for the new opposition party to significantly thwart the efforts of the ruling ANC party in this year's general election.
"I think COPE has very little chance of unseating the ANC in the 2009 election. Is it likely that COPE could perform exceedingly well to become the official opposition? It would require something of between 10 to 15 percent in that regard and I think that is a distinct possibility. It does depend on how it manages the election and how it projects itself, but I think COPE has the potential to become the official opposition with 10 to 15 percent. If it were to succeed in doing that it would make a major dent in the South African political system and transform the system because for the first time we would have an official opposition although 14 or 15 percent. Would nevertheless be competing from votes in the same electoral pool as the ANC," he said.
Habib said although it was possible for the ruling party to win this year's election, there are possibilities it could lose its two thirds majority needed to amend the constitution.
"It seems the ANC would likely win this election fairly comfortably and I tin it is likely to lose its two thirds. So it is likely to win say anywhere between 60 and 65 percent of the votes, which would give it a comfortable majority, but it would not give it sufficient majority to interfere with the constitution I don't think that it needs to do that anyway. And I think however that COPE together with coalition parties could constitute a threat in particular region I think in the Western Cape in the Eastern Cape and they might have a challenge may be in the Northern Cape. But I don't think it could unseat the ANC," Habib noted.
He said the ANC would have its reputation possibly challenged depending on the success of the opposition COPE in the upcoming election.
"The tragedy for the ANC is that given the way it is Barack Obama for instance won 53 percent of the votes in the United States of the popular votes and it was described as a landslide. If the ANC were to get 64 percent it would have been described as a defeat because if it doesn't get to two thirds most people would interpret that as a major defeat, and that is the dilemma for the ANC," he said.
Habib described as not good enough claims by the opposition COPE that it has wrestled two wards from the ANC to give confidence ahead of the election.
"I think it is an interesting thing to say and I think winning two ward elections is not good enough actually. Basically, COPE does need a national organization infrastructure and it does need a national foot print if it's going to be seen and perceived as a viable opposition party. It does have some presence in the Western Cape it does have presence in the Eastern Cape and some presence in Gauteng. But it does need to move beyond those provinces and winning two elections on its own doesn't suggest that. I think we have to wait and see in this election whether it has managed to develop an organizational footprint at a national level," he said.
Some political analysts say the results of the by-elections so far suggest the ANC had reorganized itself after a poor showing in December's by-elections when it lost most of the seats in the Western Cape Province.
The Breakaway Congress of the People (COPE) has vowed to contest the election by capitalizing on the anxiety among middle class voters and business over the influence of trade unions and communists in the ruling ANC party. But significant doubts remain that COPE can gain enough traction to be pose a serious challenge to the ANC, which has won two-thirds of the vote in previous elections.