A total of nearly one thousand seven hundred delegates will this weekend determine who will lead the fastest growing political party in the country since 1994.
The two-day gathering of the highest decision making body of the Democratic Alliance will bring together nearly one thousand seven hundred of the party’s members, the largest such Federal Congress in the party’s history.
The Congress comes at a time when the party is seeking to accelerate the momentum of its growth recorded over the last eighteen years. A new leadership will be tasked with ensuring greater spoils for the party in the 2014 general election.
The vast majority of the representatives at the Congress of these will come from the DA’s branches, according to a formula worked out by the second highest decision making body of the party, the Federal Council.
DA Leader Helen Zille says branch representation is not based on branch size, unlike in parties like the ANC. “If you make members your be-all or your end-all not only do you have internal aspirant politicians running and trying to write up as many members as they can and competing amongst themselves, but you have a system where you have to audit that membership because people write up dead members they make up names just to make up the numbers that give them the higher representation,” she says.
“Then there is always an argument about whether the audit was objective and whether someone manipulated the audit.”
“In the ANC, office is like a gold watch for long service it’s who has been there the longest”
Zille believes the DA’s system eliminates infighting and conflict in the party. She says their system speaks to what the party is seeking to do, penetrate new areas, and win more votes. She explains how branches win the right to be represented at the Federal Congress.
“If you have a branch you get 25 percent of your points. If that branch is in an area that has not been supporting the DA before you get another 25 percent simply for the effort of starting a branch there. If you are in a DA-supporting area you do not get that 25 percent, but you get your additional amount on the number of votes you got.”
The Federal Congress takes place every two years. It elects leaders, establishes the party’s policies, and makes amendments to its constitution. DA National Spokesperson, Musi Maimane, who will be standing at Congress for one of the Vice Chairperson of the Federal Council positions held previously by Zille, explains the process of standing for election and how the voting works.
“There is no ways within the DA that a particular constituency says Maimane is our candidate and you will never be nominated by a province,” he says. “A single individual in the party nominated me, a second individual seconded me, I agreed to that. My branch and constituency can discuss that but whoever their representatives are who arrive at congress have every right to vote independently in a secret fashion.”
According to Zille, the DA’s philosophy levels the playing fields in terms of who can be voted into office, a crucial issue for a party that is seeking to throw off perceptions that it is a white dominated party.
“In the ANC, office is like a gold watch for long service it’s who has been there the longest. In the DA it is not that at all, you can have a brand new person standing against an experienced person and the majority of us can vote for the brand new person, thinking they can add value and that’s good – opens the system up it and brings new blood in.”
The DA will, over the two day period of its Federal Congress, be looking to make resolutions on such issues as unemployment and crime. The significance of the Congress is that its leadership will lead the party to the next national election, one in which it hopes add financial powerhouse Gauteng and the Northern Cape to its tally of provinces run by the party.
– By Busi Chimombe