Inter- & Intra-party democracy
Intra-party democracy is a new area of research and campaign work in South Africa. Political parties are the lifeblood of our democracy and need to be owned by and accountable to the public. Proponents of intra-party democracy argue that the level of commitment to uphold democratic governance by a party can be assessed by looking into its internal level of democracy. Deepening intra-party democracy will, therefore, deepen our democracy.
Until now, MVC’s work has been shift public perception primarily through showing how parties work. We will shift this towards mobilising people behind a larger and deeper campaign where people have greater power over how parties run.
We have recently released the first part of our research titled An Intervention to Deepen Democracy and Accountability in South African Politics.
The paper explores what intra-democracy (IPD) is, recognising that it is a contested concept and there is no singular definition of what it means to have internal democracy within a political party. The argument is put forward that insufficient levels of intra-party democracy in our political parties – especially the governing African National Congress (ANC) – has negatively impacted our political system, to the detriment of the public good. As a result, it has undermined accountability, with very real consequences for the lives of everyone in the country, but especially the poor and marginalised.
The paper recognises that political parties in South Africa all practice IPD to various degrees, despite not being compelled by any specific party law to adopt and implement IPD in a specific way. The position of the paper is not that there is no democracy in our political parties, but that more needs to be done to make parties more inclusive and provide deeper and more meaningful ways for members, especially at the lower levels, to participate and direct the trajectory of parties.
Further, inter-party democracy is the term MVC has adopted to refer to our growing work on coalition government. In contrast to intra-party democracy, which assesses how political parties manage their internal affairs, and whether these practices are democratic, inter-party democracy examines the relationships between parties, with specific reference to formal coalitions between parties. Analysts and even the governing ANC itself recognize that the 2024 elections may lead to the establishment of coalitions at the national and provincial level to form government. In recent years we have become accustomed to high levels of coalition dysfunction and instability at the local level and presently, there are no laws governing how coalitions should work. But across the world, there are many examples of coalitions that operate effectively. Our research on coalitions will explore what practices are best suited to ensure coalitions are stable and serve the interests of the people, not merely of the parties seeking to secure power. Our work will take into account South Africa’s specific context, history, and political needs as we move towards a new chapter of our democracy in which coalitions at all three levels of government will likely be a prominent feature.