De Lille's prospects

Daniel Silke on how the former Cape Town mayor's new party is likely to perform

Patricia De Lille is once again back on the campaign trail. This time – and perhaps in more comfortable territory for her – she will return to heading up her own political party where she can exert her own authority and not be faced with the many constraints normally found in larger political entities with disparate constituencies.

Mrs. De Lille is attempting to once again tap into a disillusioned or disgruntled political market that might be tempted to ditch the larger parties in favour of a fresh style of democratic activity. In this, De Lille no doubt has read a variety of opinion surveys which do indicate a large undecided or floating vote that could certainly – if harnessed – be a political force in the country.

So far, this all sounds promising for what may well be some sort of re-incarnation of the Independent Democrats, a party that gained some traction in the Western Cape when De Lille left the PAC but, never caught on nationally where at its peak, it could barely muster 2% of the popular vote.

The last few years have seen a plethora of powerful and talented women attempt to ‘go-it-alone’ in the highly competitive South African party-political space. Dr Mamphela Ramphele and Makhosi Khoza come to mind as holding out great potential, but falling miserably to not only manage but establish in practical terms their respective parties.

De Lille faces some similar challenges. It’s a costly exercise to launch a new political party and with the larger parties enjoying substantial budgets, she will find the going extremely tough and constraining. Secondly, parties built around strong personalities require more than just one high-profile individual. De Lille desperately needs other personalities of stature to join her movement or else it will simply be seen as a vehicle for her own self-promotion.

But more importantly, De Lille has to be seen as a credible force that can find a unique selling proposition away from the DA, ANC or even EFF. And here’s the rub. Her launch announcement was largely framed within a vengeful narrative again the DA.

This may not be surprising that since the DA was her last political home, she would be particularly pointed in her critique of the party, but her failing to equally balance her criticism against the other major players (notably the ANC) identified her more as a leader of a ‘Disgruntled Party’ than of a truly democratic alternative within our broader political scene.

Although she was at pains to stress that a clearer policy platform would emerge in January, De Lille is going to have to put clear blue water between herself and all the major political parties or just get lost in a bigger sea of polarizing election-time rhetoric.

To this end, De Lille clearly represents more of a regional political ‘force’ than anything substantial on the national stage. With meagre resources, she will largely confine her ground operation to the Western Cape and given her recent history, it is more likely to be about capturing the disgruntled DA voter than anything else.

In that, De Lille will have a negative effect on both the DA and the ANC. Already on the defensive due to the atrocious management of the larger De Lille saga, the DA may well have a softer under-belly of support in the Western Cape than in recent elections.

Should this result in a lower voter turn-out for the party, their support can slip back closer to 50%. Even at modest inroads of less than 5% of the Western Cape vote, De Lille may well hold a key balance-of-power position should this scenario play out.

And, in order to avoid this, the DA will be forced to shift key resources in funding and personnel down to the Western Cape to shore up its support base. De Lille will bog down the DA even though she might end up with fewer votes than she thinks are due to her.

For the ANC, the De Lille effect might be less damaging. Alienated Cape Flats voters who had shifted to the DA might now find De Lille a little more compelling than an ANC still largely unable to gain traction in the region. A new party headed by the former Mayor can therefore stunt the ability of the ANC to increase its turnout as well.

The flipside here is that De Lille acts as a political ‘foil’ for the ANC – hiving off some support from the DA and allowing the ANC the chance to be part of a larger coalition which would exclude the DA should it fall below 50% of the vote.

Patricia De Lille adds an extra layer of complexity and competition to the already crowded political playing field in the Western Cape – and to a much lesser extent nationally. Whilst she may well carve out a place for herself with a parliamentary seat, she is likely to remain on the periphery of the larger political shifts and changes that the country needs, and will still play coalition politics perhaps with different faces at the table.

This article first appeared on News24.