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A Framework for Coalitions in Local Government

From the first democratic local government elections in 2000, until the 2016 elections, general elections have always produced so-called ‘hung councils’. A hung council arises when no political party wins more than 50% of the seats in the municipal council, thus making the formation of a coalition or minority government inevitable.

The first local government elections (LGEs) produced 29 hung councils. This increased to 31 (including the City of Cape Town) in the 2006 LGEs, before peaking to 37 hung councils in the 2011 elections. The 2016 LGEs produced the least (27) hung councils.

However, this was the first time that elections in four of the eight metropolitan councils produced hung councils. This happened in the City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay and the City of Tshwane.

The Constitution vests legislative and executive authority in the municipal council. The effective exercise of these functions is crucial for capable and developmental local governance. As the highest decision-making body, the council must steer the municipality, determine its strategic direction and take crucial decisions. In coalitions, this requires close cooperation between coalition partners to ensure that the responsibilities of the council are carried out effectively. 

However, in practice, coalition governments have often been unstable and terminated before the end of the council term. Instability in a local coalition can have a severe impact as it may compromise the municipality’s ability to adopt policies and by-laws, make senior management appointments, or even adopt a budget.

The framework that has been produced by the Dullah Omar Institute provides practical and implementable guidelines to political parties and independent councillors in coalition governments, to resolve challenges of instability, and encourage cooperation in coalitions. It sets out guidelines and introduces mechanisms that can be used to structure and manage coalitions in practice.

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