Roundtable meeting: Strengthening democracy through party coalition building 2003

June, 2003, Cape Town

A workshop entitled "Strengthening democracy through party coalition building", hosted by EISA and the Konrad Adenaeur Foundation (KAF) was held.

This roundtable meeting was the first of this kind to be held by EISA at which political parties had the opportunity to discuss and debate on a range of issues relevant to coalition practices in the Southern African political context. Both EISA and Konrad Adenaeur Foundation (KAF) designed this project as a way to contribute to the debate on political party coalitions. Due to the continued significance both cabinet/governing coalitions and electoral coalitions have had at directing the political environment in South Africa, the debate has focused mainly on the implications of political coalitions on the consolidation of democracy in South Africa, and on the necessity for a viable provincial and national parliamentary opposition. The meeting was designed to provide political parties' representatives an opportunity to explore this debate further and specifically for parties to share experiences and individual party perspectives on coalition practices.

Prior to the meeting, EISA researchers reviewed coalition trends, issues pertaining to coalition principles and examined the legislative framework. This review is mainly a survey that seeks to establish the theoretical, practical and legislative thinking on coalitions in South Africa, which was used to set the direction of the discussions.

The proceedings of the roundtable were, in fact, a direct account of the discussions, which for starters provided an overview of all the coalitions to date and opened discussion on the implications of coalition formation on South Africa's democracy. Specific perspectives shared by parties present served to draw up an inventory of political coalitions by evaluating them on the basis of benefits, failures and successes.

Much of the concluding debate focused on assessing/discussing the implications of various policies and laws in South Africa on coalition practices, through the effects of parliamentary procedures, floor-crossing legislation, electoral system, and constitution on coalitions. In relation to this, a case study on Mauritius coalitions was shared at the proceedings to provide a parallel perspective on the impact of an electoral system on party behaviour and coalition building. The presentation considered how the electoral system has shaped the process of coalitions among political parties in Mauritius, and how coalition governments are formed and cabinet posts shared.

In conclusion, the first roundtable on this topic served to initiate discussion, explore the debate further and to set a direction for EISA to follow with regard to structuring and designing a tangible follow up project whose objective will be to continue to promote the sustainability of democracy and credibility of politics in South Africa by strengthening and building coalition practices.