Support for a South African opposition party formed by defectors from the ruling African National Congress has slumped since the April election due to internal leadership battles, a poll showed yesterday.
Only 2.2% of eligible voters would back the Congress of the People (COPE), set up by loyalists of ousted President Thabo Mbeki in what was seen as the biggest challenge to the ruling party since apartheid ended in 1994.
COPE got over 7% of the vote in the election, giving it 30 seats in the 400-member parliament. But it did little to dent support for now President Jacob Zuma with its efforts to win over voters tired of scandals around him.
“The emergence of COPE has not been without controversy and several leadership struggles crippled the party, both before and after the general election in April 2009,” said Ipsos Markinor, which carried out the poll.
It said COPE might still turn things around, with 8% of those polled saying they would “perhaps vote” for the party.
Ipsos Markinor said the party’s support was concentrated in the Gauteng province, South Africa’s economic hub.
“The party has to address a variety of issues important to people who live in big cities, whilst not forgetting the interests of people in the more remote areas,” it said.
Political analysts doubt COPE’s effectiveness as it has made similar promises to the ANC on issues such as addressing poverty, a concern for much of the black majority that has been intensified by the first recession in 17 years.
COPE has accused the government of bowing to communist and union allies in shifting economic policies to the left, but such a message may be more appealing to the middle class and foreign investors than to the ANC grassroots.
South African opposition parties have started talks on an alliance aimed at challenging the ANC in local polls in 2011, hoping to capitalise on growing frustrations over crime, education, health care and electricity.
The biggest opposition party is the Democratic Alliance. Led by Helen Zille, a white woman, it got nearly 17% in the election nationally although much of its support came from the region around Cape Town.
Some 3500 adults were interviewed for the Ipsos Markinor poll between October 21 and November 13.