DA Elective Congress: SA’s biggest-ever virtual political event
Coincidentally, the virtual congress, dubbed by the party as a 'technological trailblazer,' takes places almost a year later, to the day, after Mmusi Maimane and Athol Trollip resigned as leader and federal chairperson respectively.
In less than an hour, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) elective congress gets underway where over 2,000 delegates from the party will elect its new leaders through an IT-based voting system.
The two contenders vying for the position of party leader are John Steenhuisen, who has been the DA’s interim leader since the resignation of Mmusi Maimane, and Mbali Ntuli, a former DA Youth leader who is currently a member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature.
Steenhuisen, 44, was named the DA’s caretaker leader when Maimane quit after his predecessor Helen Zille made a political comeback as the party’s chairwoman. Several other senior leaders, including Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, also resigned.
Along with its new federal leader, the DA will also elect two deputy federal chairpersons and the party’s federal council chairperson.
Groundbreaking IT-based voting
The party will for the first time elect new leaders through an IT-based voting system and the DA’s chief presiding officer, Greg Krumbock, said they were confident that the election would be free and fair. He added, “just last week, we concluded a well-managed dry run wherein we tested all the aspects of the congress without any glitch.”
“The party will be using the OpaVote online voting platform to allow delegates to cast votes for their preferred candidates. Once a delegate registers, he or she, will receive a unique code to enter on the system that will allow them to cast a single ballot.“
A total of 2089 delegates are accredited to participate in the congress; with 1114 of these delegates being public representatives in the form of serving Members of Parliament, Members of Provincial Legislatures and Councillors.
The balance of 975 consists of representatives of our branches across the country, which amounts to 47% of the total size of the delegates.
This DA said this makes this weekend’s congress one with the largest representation of ordinary branch members to date.
Candidates square off
In the run-up to the congress, Steenhuisen said in a letter to congress delegates that it served no-one when members “attacked their own party,” as it undermined its electoral prospects.
Steenhuisen’s letter came a day after Ntuli penned a letter to delegates in which she raised major issues with some of the party’s internal processes.
She said the DA was being destroyed by a top-down management phenomenon, in which people were compelled to fall in line or risk being “isolated, purged or frustrated into resigning.”
Ntuli said further that it had been clear to her, since at least 2014, that there existed an insider and outsider clique in the DA, and that it was important to not allow a “cult-like mentality to settle and find a home” in the party.
Said Steenhuisen in his letter: “Whoever is elected at the congress will need to lead our party into local government elections next year. It will serve no-one, particularly our aspirant candidates and current councillors, to undermine our electoral prospects by attacking the party we love.”
He said he had not once sought to trash the party in public because “I will not trash the party that I love.”
Steenhuisen said he had opted to discuss issues with delegates directly in virtual town hall meetings.
“While it may be popular with the commentators and [on] Twitter to attack your own party, I have chosen to rather be forthright with you in these meetings.”
Steenhuisen a shoo-in as DA leader?
The DA’s newly elected leaders will take the party to next year’s local government elections as they are expected to keep their positions for the next three years.
Political analyst and talk show host Eusebius Mckaiser believes Steenhuisen will win the DA leadership race.
“She (Ntuli) went from being nationally prominent between about 2010 and 2014 to increased obscurity over the past five years. Most voting delegates at the party’s elective conference do not know her. Many wouldn’t recognise her at their local Spar even if their lives depended on spotting her.”
In politics, Mckaiser added, writing in the Mail and Guardian, “visibility is everything. Ntuli is invisible. She has tried to cobble together something of a media campaign in the past few weeks but it is too little too late.”
However, party members like MP Haniff Hoosen said Ntuli had a chance.
“If Mbali didn’t think she had a chance, we wouldn’t think she had a chance and would have given up a long time ago. But we haven’t. The campaign team is out there phoning and talking to people, campaigning on social media and engaging with branch delegates because they believe it’s possible.”
The voting for leadership positions will be formally opened at 11am on Saturday and will be open for five hours, so no matter what problems delegates might have, there will be enough time for delegates to make alternative arrangements and we are therefore expecting a very high percentage poll for the leadership votes, said Krumbock.
He said a flash disk containing the results would be kept in a protected vault overnight and results would be announced on Sunday afternoon to keep the mood of the congress throughout the weekend.
Also on thesouthafrican.com: DA leadership hopeful Mbali Ntuli calls for online congress to be scrapped