NEWS ANALYSIS: Lekota may jump ship as COPE faces disappearance
EYES will be on Congress of the People (COPE) leader Mosiuoa Lekota, to see if he will follow in the footsteps of his colleague Nosimo Balindlela, who joined the Democratic Alliance (DA) on Tuesday.
Her move was hardly surprising. She was part of the group led by Mr Lekota, which has been agitating for a merger of some sort with the DA.
Insiders say a recent COPE parliamentary caucus meeting rejected the idea of a merger. Now that she has crossed, those COPE members who are opposed to the idea of working with the DA expect Mr Lekota to follow suit.
Mr Lekota would be a shoo-in as he is battling to keep COPE afloat. He also shares the DA’s vision of realigning the opposition.
COPE is on the decline, and it is only wise that its career politicians jump ship while it is still possible. The party is unlikely to get enough votes to regain the 30 seats it has in Parliament, come 2014.
DA leader Helen Zille on Tuesday said Ms Balindlela’s move was the beginning of the realignment of opposition politics. But the reality is that this is battling to take off.
Most minority parties in Parliament are wary of the DA. Some cite ideological differences as the reason for their doubts. But their scepticism may have to do with the fact that leaders of smaller parties get paid more than ordinary MPs — and get to run their parties the way they like. No politician wants to be their own boss, and wake up the next day having to report to Ms Zille.
They fear the DA will swallow them and bury their party’s identity and independence. What they don’t realise, however, is that their parties may soon disappear.
Ms Balindlela and Mr Lekota may be seeing the future — that they are safer in the DA than on their own. The past two elections showed that a two-party system is in the offing. COPE has lost all the momentum it started with, when it gained 1.3-million voters in 2009, making it the third-biggest party after the African National Congress (ANC) and the DA.
But that’s all history now, as its state of permanently being a party going through internal battles may turn voters away.
It takes 50,000 votes to gain a seat in Parliament. Very soon some of the 29 remaining COPE MPs will realise that, and look for new homes, possibly in the DA and the ANC.
On the other hand, how the DA lured Ms Balindlela shows its appetite for growth.
The traditional DA may have reached a ceiling, having gotten 23% as an aggregate of its 2011 local elections performance.
It has set itself a target of 30% votes in 2014, up from the 17% it got in 2009. There appears to be a realisation among the DA’s strategists that they can surpass the 30% target if they pull out some magic now, while the ANC is battling with its own infighting.
From the days when it had just 1% of the national votes, as the erstwhile Democratic Party, it has grown mainly by merging with other parties: the New National Party and the Independent Democrats.
But its latest suggestion for parties to come together under one roof has been rejected by some smaller parties — with United Democratic Movement president Bantu Holomisa the most vocal critic of the plan. His party is in favour of opposition coalitions in which all the member parties will retain their identity.
As for the DA’s claims that this is the beginning of the realignment of opposition parties — what this shows is the inevitable end of COPE, with the DA likely to get some of the spoils. Ms Balindlela is a tireless campaigner, who may take its message to areas the DA’s traditional leaders cannot.
But she brings baggage — in the form of an image of a politician who hops around too much.
SA’s political systems is still conservative. The idea of politicians changing their tune every four years is not well accepted.