Floor crossing (South Africa)

Floor crossing (South Africa)

Floor crossing in South Africa is a controversial system under which Members of Parliament, Members of Provincial Legislatures and Local Government councillors may change political party (or form a new party) and take their seats with them when they do so.

The floor crossing was enabled by amendments to the Constitution of South Africa and other legislation passed by Parliament.cite web
title=General Notice of a Bill Amending the Constitution
author=Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
] The amendment removed clauses requiring members of the National Assembly to give up their seats should they change parties. According to the amendments, floor crossing is only permitted twice in an electoral term, in the second and fourth years after the General Elections, from the 1st to the 15th of September.

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) unsucessfully challenged the constitutionality of floor crossing. Propositions to ammend the constitution to again to prevent politicians from keping their seats when joining other parties, dubbed "crosstitutes", was tabled in parliament in 2008. [cite news
title=Draft bill to deal with floor-crossing
publisher=Pretoria News

In 2005 the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) stopped accepting floor-crossers because "Floor-crossing is an absolute mockery of parliamentary democracy and results in deception, suspicion, accusation and 'cheque-book' politics." [cite news
title=ACDP will not accept floor-crossers in future
publisher=Sapa, SABC

Parties who accepted floor crossers include the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), New National Party (NNP), Sport Party,
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Phumelela Ratepayers Association, Potchefstroom Inwonersvereniging, Breedevallei Onafhanklik, and the Universal Party [cite web
title=ePoliticsSA - Edition 06: Local Government Floor Crossing 2004

Five parties where created by floor crossing in 2003 including the Independent Democrats (ID) and New Labour Party (NLP); and in 2005 the National Democratic Convention (Nadeco) and Progressive Independent Movement (PIM). [cite news
title=Nadeco penalised for failing to account
publisher=Pretoria News
] [cite news
title=South Africa: ANC Gets R53,5m of R79m to Parties
publisher=Business Day


Floor crossing legislation was initially requested by the Democratic Party and the New National Party in November 2001, as a means of formalising their unification into the Democratic Alliance. The African National Congress, who held the power in the legislature to change the constitution, did not favour the measure at the time, as they perceived the DA initiative to be a "congealing of a race and class based political opposition".cite web
title=Briefing to Floor-Crossing (pdf)
] However, when the NNP leadership announced their desire to leave the DA and form alliances with the ANC in 2001, the ANC passed the legislation. ANC chairman Mosiuoa Lekota stated that the party's reasons for the legislation was "for some political realignment…and the break-up of racial power blocks".

Floor crossing in practise

Generally speaking, the ruling ANC has benefited the most from this system, but other parties have managed to gain seats this way cite web
title=Floor Crossing at a Glance (pdf)
] The ANC, and large parties in general, have benefited the most from floor crossing because of a clause in the legislation that requires ten percent of a party's caucus to cross the floor before any one member can cross. This means that if an ANC MP in the National Assembly wanted to cross the floor, he or she would need to rely on 30 of his or her colleagues to do the same because the ANC has 293 MPs in the National Assembly. It is far easier for public representatives of small parties to cross the floor since they need to collude with fewer of their colleagues. If there are less than ten members in a caucus, the ten percent clause effectively allows each member to cross the floor unilaterally.

Criticism and controversy

The system has been the source of much controversy, with many commentators arguing that it disenfranchises voters, by effectively allowing politicians to 'reallocate' votes as they see fit. Other critics of floor crossing also argue that it lends itself to bribery and corruption. The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, has pointed out that during the 2002 floor crossing window period in Cape Town, 87% of National Party Councillors that crossed to the ANC were appointed to a position with a better salary.

Floor crossing is particularly controversial because South African MPs are elected by proportional representation, and are nominated by political parties on a closed "party list" before a general election. Voters thus vote for a political party rather than for an individual MP. However, floor crossing allows for MPs to change parties, with the possible result that the composition of the elected bodies no longer represents the original vote count.

In a 15 January 2006 interview at the SAPA, Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi said, "Floor-crossing is like the HI virus because it robs the political system of all honour, holding political parties hostage by rendering them unable to discipline their own members. It allows the emergence of careerists, self-serving politicians, which are a very strange breed because they do not honour the sanctity of the vote cast in the ballot box." cite web | url=http://www.mg.co.za/articlepage.aspx?area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__national&articleid=261355 | title=Buthelezi: 'Floor-crossing is like the HI virus' | author = South African Press Association| date=2006-01-15 |work=Mail and Guardian |accessdate=2006-12-12]

List of Parliamentary floor crossings

* 2003 South African floor crossing window period
* 2005 South African floor crossing window period
* 2007 South African floor crossing window period


See also

* Crossing the floor
* Party switching

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