Crisis of representation – political parties need to be more responsive to voter needs

This is a general characterization of all political parties, and the answer to declining responsiveness of political parties to citizen’s needs lies in looking at citizens response to national priorities. One gets a sense of what the dominant concerns are and that there is a consistency across the 18 South African Social Attitudes Surveys (SASAS), that people want to see improved economic conditions, job creation, crime reduction and reversal of the recent pattern of corruption. Citizens increasingly want to see better quality and reliable services and value for money from their municipalities. There is clearly a disconnect between the needs that are being expressed by citizens time and again and what is happening in reality.

People are recognising that their needs are not being responded to generally and also in their own lived reality. They are not seeing certain types of improvements that they would expect on their doorstep. There is a recognition on these kinds of factors that there is not enough positive traction and ultimately, that is why these harsh views from citizens are coming through – my needs are not being met. This may reflect in citizens intention to vote, especially among the youth. However, the youth are not apathetic, as can be seen from the data presented, with more than half still fundamentally believing in their duty to vote.

The issue is that the youth don’t see a party that speaks to them, and they say that they are struggling to find one that speaks to their needs and interests. So, it’s a harsh indictment on the nature of representative democracy. Is there accountability of parties to their voters and ultimately meeting the need of their voters?  This is the big issue, and it is a crisis of representation. What the data does speak to is a resolute appeal for greater accountability, but the worry is whether it is going further than that now. It is not just about critical citizens and them wanting political parties to do better, that is of course the case, but there are signs of a rising fatalism – I just don’t care anymore. It is an appeal for greater change in party responsiveness.

People have also asked whether the rise of independent candidates is a solution. This is not necessarily going to be the gamechanger people think it’s going to be. There is also coalition politics and whether that might be a solution to re-inspire the big turnaround in our democracy. The big question remains – is that going to be enough and what form the coalition politics might take to bring about a change.

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