JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - A surprise split late last week in this country's official opposition could significantly alter regional politics by thrusting the ruling African National Congress into power in a longtime opposition stronghold and giving it nationwide dominance, analysts said this week.
The New National Party, the successor to the party responsible for apartheid, said Friday that it was suspending its membership in the Democratic Alliance, the country's main political opposition. That has raised concerns about the alliance's ability to hold on to power in Western Cape province.
The uncertainty is compounded by the possibility that an alliance between the New National Party and the ANC will oust the smaller Democratic Party from government in the Western Cape. That would pave the way for a ruling party-led coalition in the Western Cape and on the Cape Town City Council, and would give the ANC control over all nine of the country's provinces.
Analysts said the ANC's prospective political monopoly would undermine the quest for vibrant opposition politics in South Africa.
The fate of the Democratic Alliance - an amalgamation of the Democratic Party, the former National Party and the lower-profile Federal Alliance - could be jeopardized further in the Western Cape if the national parliament decides to allow representatives to change their political affiliation without losing their seats.
If such legislation passes, some analysts expect an exodus of moderate New National Party politicians to the ANC, with extremist members sticking with the Democratic Party.
Last week's split is expected to trigger a flurry of special elections around the country as New National Party members who won legislative seats on a Democratic Alliance ticket vacate their posts.
The alliance has 107 seats on the City Council in Cape Town, South Africa's legislative capital. Of those, 37 are aligned with the Democratic Party and 70 with the New National Party, while the ANC has 77 seats. A coalition of the ANC and the New National Party would severely undercut the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Alliance "had an opportunity to display notions of good governance in the Western Cape," said Ebrahim Fakir, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, in Cape Town. "It could have served as a flagship for their ability in government, but unfortunately it failed."
Ann M. Simmons is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing company.