Why a coalition government in South Africa would not be all good news for democracy …

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DIA’s own Nic Cheeseman has written a new column on the prospects for the coalition government being formed in South Africa, drawing on research on the pros and cons of presidential coalitions across the world:

“South Africa’s 2024 general elections saw voters give the ruling African National Congress a proverbial bloody nose. After years of poor economic performance and rampant corruption, the flow of supporters abandoning the party went from a stream to a fast flowing river. Having taken almost three-quarters of the vote in 2004, the ANC’s share of the ballot fell steadily to 58% in 2019, before plummeting to just 40% this year.

This poor performance has forced the ANC to establish a coalition in order to govern, which has generated new hope that the country’s downward political and economic trajectory can be turned around. On the one hand, the introduction of new leaders and parties has the potential to generate better policy and to bolster efforts to reduce graft. On the other hand, the inclusion of the economically conservative Democratic Alliance (DA) is likely to be welcomed by international financial institutions and foreign investors, which may help the country to access more funds to support economic recovery. These gains may well be achieved, but research on how presidential coalitions play out in practice reveals another possibility.

Working with Paul Chaisty and Tim Power, two highly respected political scientists from Oxford University, I conducted a three year research project on the impact of what is known in Brazil as “coalitional presidentialism”. We looked at how presidents form coalitions and the effect this has on a range of political outcomes in nine countries across Africa, Latin America and post-communist Europe, interviewing 350 members of parliament and tracking legislative developments. We found that there was great variation in experiences across these countries, but also some important common themes. Perhaps the most pronounced of these was that while coalition government in new democracies does promote political stability and deliver better policies, this often comes at the cost of increasing corruption weaker political parties. As a result, many of the people we interviewed concluded that overall coalitional presidentialism had undermined the quality of democracy in their country …”

The column is part of Nic’s regular Political Capital column for The Africa Report.

To read the whole article, click here.

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