Floor crossing (South Africa)

Floor crossing in South Africa was a controversial system under which members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures and local government councillors could change political party (or form a new party) and take their seats with them when they did so. Floor crossing in South Africa was abolished in January 2009.

Floor crossing was originally enabled by amendments to the Constitution of South Africa and other legislation passed by Parliament.[1] The amendments removed clauses requiring members of the National Assembly to give up their seats should they change parties. According to the void amendments, floor crossing was only permitted twice in an electoral term, in the second and fourth years after the general elections, from 1 to 15 September.

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of floor crossing.[2] A bill to amend the constitution to again prevent politicians from keeping their seats when joining other parties, dubbed "crosstitutes", was tabled in Parliament in 2008. This was a consequence of the decision of the African National Congress at its December 2007 national congress in Polokwane to reject floor crossing.[3] The bill was passed by Parliament and floor crossing was subsequently abolished when President Kgalema Motlanthe assented to the constitutional amendment 6 January 2009.[4]

Seats gained and lost[5]
Party 2003 result 2005 2007
gained lost gained lost
African National Congress (ANC) +9 +14 0 +4 0
Democratic Alliance (DA) +8 +2 −5 0 0
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) −3 −5 0 0 0
New National Party (NNP) −8 −7 0
African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) +1 −3 0 0
United Democratic Movement (UDM) −10 −3 0
Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) 0 0 0 0 0
United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) 0 0 0 0 0
Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) −1 0 0 0 −2
African Independent Movement (AIM) +1
Alliance for Democracy and Prosperity (ADP) +1
Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo) 0 0 0 0 0
Independent Democrats (ID) +1 0 −2 0 −1
Minority Front (MF) 0 0 0 0 0
National Action (NA) +1
Afrikaner Eenheid Beweging −1
Peace and Justice Congress (PJC) +1 0 0
National Democratic Convention (Nadeco) +4 0 0 0
United Independent Front (UIF) +2 0 0 −2
United Party of South Africa (UPSA) +1 0 0 −1
Federation of Democrats (FD) +1 0 0 0
Progressive Independent Movement (PIM) +1 0 0 −1
African People's Convention (APC) +2 0
National Alliance (NA) +1 0

Parties who gained floor crossers include the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA),[2] New National Party (NNP), Sport Party, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Phumelela Ratepayers Association, Potchefstroom Inwonersvereniging, Breedevallei Onafhanklik, and the Universal Party[6]

Five parties were created by floor crossing in 2003, including the Independent Democrats (ID) and New Labour Party (NLP);[2] in 2005, the National Democratic Convention (Nadeco) and Progressive Independent Movement (PIM).[7][8]


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, which 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".[9] 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".[9]

Floor crossing in practice

Generally speaking, the ruling ANC benefited the most from this system, but other parties also managed to gain seats this way.[2] The ANC, and large parties in general, benefited the most from floor crossing because of a clause in the legislation that required ten percent of a party's caucus to cross the floor before any one member could cross. This meant 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 had 293 MPs in the National Assembly. It was far easier for public representatives of small parties to cross the floor since they needed to collude with fewer of their colleagues. If there were less than ten members in a caucus, the ten percent clause effectively allowed each member to cross the floor unilaterally.

Criticism and controversy

The system was the source of much controversy, with many commentators arguing that it disenfranchised voters, by effectively allowing politicians to 'reallocate' votes as they saw fit. Other critics of floor crossing also argued that it lent 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 was 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 allowed MPs to change parties, with the possible result that the composition of the elected bodies no longer represented the original vote count.

In a 15 January 2006 interview with the South African Press Association, 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."[10]

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."[11]

List of Parliamentary floor crossings

See also


  1. Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (24 August 2002). "General Notice of a Bill Amending the Constitution". Archived from the original on 14 February 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Floor Crossing at a Glance (pdf)". Idasa. 21 June 2004. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
  3. Carter, Chiara (3 July 2008). "Draft bill to deal with floor-crossing". Pretoria News. p. 2. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  4. Government Gazette, Republic of South Africa (9 January 2009). "Constitution Fourteenth Amendment Act of 2008.".
  5. "State of parties after floor-crossing as at 17 September 2007". Parliamentary Monitoring Group. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
  6. Faull, Jonathan (31 August 2004). "ePoliticsSA – Edition 06: Local Government Floor Crossing 2004". idasa. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
  7. Quintal, Angela (4 April 2008). "Nadeco penalised for failing to account". Pretoria News. p. 2. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  8. "South Africa: ANC Gets R53,5m of R79m to Parties". Business Day. 2 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  9. 1 2 "Briefing to Floor-Crossing (pdf)". Idasa. 7 September 2005. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
  10. South African Press Association (15 January 2006). "Buthelezi: 'Floor-crossing is like the HI virus'". Mail and Guardian. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
  11. "ACDP will not accept floor-crossers in future". Sapa, SABC. 19 September 2005. Retrieved 2008-10-09. Archived 14 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
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