Mmusi Maimane. Picture: SUPPLIED
Mmusi Maimane. Picture: SUPPLIED

The battle for the soul of the DA has no end in sight as the opposition party shelved the key debate on the powers of provincial leaders at the weekend.

The DA’s federal council, its highest decision-making body between congresses, deferred the issue pending legal advice.

The DA has faced its fair share of crucial debates in the lead-up to the 2019 national elections, including diversity in the party, which erupted at its federal congress earlier in 2018.

Ahead of the weekend’s federal council meeting, 34 senior DA leaders raised concern about a proposed amendment to its regulations on electing candidates.

This amendment would have seen provincial leaders become part of the selection panels choosing representatives for the nine legislatures. This is not allowed under the DA’s current rules. Provincial leaders, however, do form part of electoral colleges and can make representations to selection panels.

Diversity clause

One of the arguments made in support of the leaders sitting on the selection panels was that it would be an oversight role, which could, among others, be tied to the diversity clause adopted earlier in 2018 at the DA’s congress. The party has explained that diversity should be measured in terms of input, rather than output.

However, a senior party leader said the argument that the proposed amendment was tied to implementing diversity was a "red herring", and that it was rather about the consolidation of power in the party.

The 34 leaders warned in an open letter to delegates on Friday that the amendment "would make the provincial leaders virtually omnipotent in the candidate selection process, with enormous scope for abuse and patronage".

The signatories included only two of the nine provincial leaders, Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela and Joe McGluwa of North West.

A subcommittee was formed on Saturday to deal with the proposed amendment.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said on Sunday the subcommittee had recommended to its federal council that the status quo remain, while a legal opinion was sought "to guide future deliberations". Maimane said until the process was concluded, provincial leaders would not serve on selection panels.

Limpopo leader Jacques Smalle and Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga are the only provincial leaders on the selection committee in their respective provinces.

"This is a positive outcome for the DA, as our adherence to our regulations and constitution was confirmed, and our culture of open and vigorous internal debate was entrenched," Maimane said.

Gauteng leader John Moodey said the bone of contention was whether a selection panel was seen as a committee in the DA’s constitution, as provincial leaders can serve as members of any committee in their province.

This is what the legal opinion had to determine.

Moodey said the party expected a legal opinion within two weeks. Even though the applications had closed, Maimane said the candidate application process would now be open until the end of July. The DA would finalise its premier candidates by August 18.

If the legal advice finds that a selection panel is not a committee, the issue could be moot. If it finds that it is a committee, it is understood that the regulations will have to be amended by the federal council — scheduled to sit in October.