South Africa Coalition Talks Drag on as President Vote Looms

(Bloomberg) -- With just two days to go before South Africa’s parliament convenes to elect a new president, the makeup of the new administration remains unclear, with coalition talks between the main parties yet to be finalized.

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The African National Congress, which has ruled the country since apartheid ended three decades ago, lost its parliamentary majority in May 29 elections and will need the support of one or more rivals to retain power. Its decision-making National Executive Committee is expected to meet in Cape Town on Thursday to debate and finalize its approach toward power-sharing.

The ANC last week proposed that the country be ruled by a broad alliance known as a government of national unity. But former President Jacob Zuma’s new uMkhonto weSizwe Party, or MKP, and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters said it won’t participate, leaving the Democratic Alliance and the Inkatha Freedom Party as potential partners.

While the inclusion of the centrist DA in the government would be welcomed by investors, there is opposition from within the ANC and among its communist and labor-union allies because it is seen to represent the interest of big business and the White minority. ANC leaders are due to meet with officials from the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party on Wednesday to discuss its options and the status of the talks it has been having with its rivals.

There are also differences within DA, the biggest opposition party, over what role its leaders should play. While some want them to take up cabinet positions, others fear that doing so would compromise the party and limit its ability to keep the government in check.

The DA’s federal executive is also expected to meet on Thursday. The party wants the terms under which a government of national unity would be formed to be set out in writing, along with which other parties will join it, according to people familiar with its negotiating position.

The DA is also proposing that cabinet and key legislature posts be allocated to parties that join the new government in proportion to the share of the vote they won in the election, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to comment.

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DA leader John Steenhuisen has said his party won’t be part of any administration that includes the EFF and MKP, parties that both favor the nationalization of mines and banks. While the DA has also said it would refuse to partner with the Patriotic Alliance, which dented its support among mixed-race communities in its Western Cape province stronghold, it has since softened its stance, the people said.

The IFP, the fifth-biggest party, is committed to being part of a unity government at national level, according to its leader Velenkosini Hlabisa. It has also met with the ANC, DA and the National Freedom Party and is working toward forming a government in the KwaZulu-Natal province, he said. Such a deal would shut out the MKP, which won 45.4% of the vote in the eastern region.

“We are putting stability and the best interest of South Africa first,” Hlabisa told reporters in the eastern city of Durban on Wednesday.

If a national coalition can’t be agreed, the ANC could strike a deal with one or more of its rivals, whereby they agree to vote President Cyril Ramaphosa in for another term and leave the biggest party in control of the government in exchange for being given key positions in the legislature.

Parties were thrown by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s announcement on Monday that the National Assembly would meet on Friday to elect the president, because they had factored in the sitting happening early next week — which would have given them more time to negotiate.

Zuma’s party, which won 58 of the 400 seats in the legislature has asked the Constitutional Court to halt the sitting, pending its challenge to the election outcome. The court has yet to announce whether it will hear the case.

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--With assistance from Arijit Ghosh and Derek Alberts.

(Updates with comment from Inkatha Freedom Party in sixth paragraph below chart.)

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