South Africa opposition parties merge to challenge ANC

JOHANNESBURG Sun Aug 15, 2010 1:05pm EDT

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's largest opposition party said on Sunday it would merge with a small party but analysts said it was unlikely to pose a major challenge to the African National Congress in the 2014 election.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the small Independent Democrats (ID) said they hoped their new alliance would capitalize on growing frustrations with the ANC over crime and the provision of education, health care and electricity.

"This event today must merely be seen as the first step in the important task of consolidating the opposition and offering voters a true alternative government," said ID leader Patricia de Lille.

DA leader Helen Zille said the alliance would invite other opposition parties to join, hoping to score the majority in the next vote, but analysts were doubtful.

"This is not a strategic acquisition for the DA to bolster its black support and the merger is not going to reconfigure the political landscape," said Nic Borain, an independent political analyst, referring to DA's mainly white support.

Ebrahim Fakir, an analyst at the Electoral Institute of South Africa, said he also had doubts the alliance would last.

"They have distinct policy differences and that's where the real difficulty is going to lie," he told eTV news.

Since taking office in May last year, President Jacob Zuma has had to steer the country through its first recession in 17 years and deal with township protests over slow delivery of services as well as a series of strikes staged by union allies.

ANC SAYS COALITION NO THREAT

But the ANC said the coalition was no threat to the party.

"There can never be a true merger between forces that are unequal in political strength," the party said in a statement, stressing its voters would remain loyal because of the party's track record over the years in power since the end of apartheid.

"No amount of swallowing of another organization by the DA will erase these credentials of the ANC from the minds of South Africans," it said.

The DA, drawing much of its support from the region around Cape Town, received nearly 17 percent of the vote in the last election nationally, placing second behind the ANC which won overwhelmingly with 66 percent. The ID won less than 1 percent.

The opposition parties said the ID would be phased out as a separate organization and its members would join the DA within the next four years.

ID local councilors will be entitled to hold dual membership until local elections next year, while members of parliament and provincial legislature will be entitled to hold dual membership until 2014.

(Writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Charles Dick)

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