Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) recently called on President Ramaphosa to fight “the rising tide of populism” in his party, the ANC. Business sees reigning in the populist as key to re-establishing the countries credit rating, invigorating State Owned Enterprises and ensuring the continued independence of the Reserve Bank.
BLSA’s comment follows the influential international business magazine, the Economist, endorsing Cyril Ramaphosa as the right choice for leadership in South Africa. The Economist argues that a poor showing by the ANC on May 8 will not allow Ramaphosa to entrench his position in the ANC and potentially result in the populists gaining greater control over the ruling party. The question then arises as to what business will consider a good result on May 8.
While the ANC will inevitably emerge as the biggest political party on May 8, various polls and projections put their share of votes perilously close to 50%. Few things disconcert business more than disruption and the ANC failing to get 50% would constitute exactly that. This gives the lower limit of a “good” result for business. The upper limit would be one where the populists are unable to ensure that the Constitution is changed to undermine property rights (eg. expropriate property without compensation) or nationalise the reserve bank.
However even if the ANC gets less than a two-thirds majority, it will be able to make constitutional changes with the assistance of other populist like the EFF. The upper upset limit will thus be below the limit required for the ANC and the EFF to, collectively, change the Constitution (they jointly get less than 66.7% of the vote). Assuming that the EFF obtains 10% of the vote, a good result for business would be one where the ANC gets less than 56.7% of the vote (not allowing for any margin of error).
If this is taken as a benchmark, the Economists’ hopes that Ramaphosa increases the ANC’s share of votes cannot be fulfilled – the ANC had obtained 61% in the 2014 national election. If the ANC matches the 61% of the votes, populists will be able to make constitutional changes with the collaboration of the EFF – even if the EFF does not increase its share of votes. If the benchmark is shifted to the ANC’s share of votes in 2016 Local Government Elections (53%), it is possible for Ramaphosa to increase the ANC’s share of votes and for changes to the constitution to be restricted.
In this scenario the best possible outcome for business would be the ANC to obtain between 54% and 57% of the vote. Although this is a very narrow margin, it is very close to projections and many survey results. Despite this it seems unlikely that business is likely to be smiling after May 8.
*Michael O’Donovan is an independent analyst