The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) former chief whip John Steenhuisen has been announced as leader of the opposition in Parliament.
His elevation to the DA’s caucus leader comes after an election was triggered following the resignation as MP of former party leader Mmusi Maimane.
Steenhuisen announced his candidacy for the position last week, after a DA parliamentary caucus meeting where it was announced that Maimane would not be returning to parliament.
In that meeting, Maimane stepped down as the party’s chief-whip — citing party rules that his term is tied to that of the party leader in parliament.
As a result, Steenhuisen becomes party leader without having to face an election.
“The Democratic Alliance can confirm that the nominations for DA Parliamentary Leader officially closed Friday night at 20:00,” said DA caucus chairperson Annelie Lotriet in a statement.
“I can confirm that the position was uncontested with only one nomination. Therefore the new Parliamentary Leader is John Steenhuisen. The DA’s Parliamentary Caucus looks forward to working with Mr. Steenhuisen and he can be assured of our support.”
The DA was expected to hold caucus elections this coming Tuesday.
A busy time in Parliament means that the party had to find a new parliamentary leader. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni delivers his important Medium Term Budget Speech.
The next day, President Cyril Ramaphosa will go to Parliament to answer questions from MPs.
Given this schedule, not having a parliamentary leader would have been embarrassing for the country’s largest opposition party.
Last week, Steenhuisen told the Mail & Guardian he was ready to lead the party in Parliament. “I’ve been chief whip for six years. It’s equipped me with the experience and the ability to understand the parliamentary terrain. And while they DA finds its feet I am happy to do the job.”
The Democratic Alliance will hold a special Federal Council meeting in November, to elect a new party leader and a new federal chairperson, in the wake of the resignation of Maimane and Athol Trollip.
The interim leaders will hold their positions until a planned Federal Congress in April 2020.
While Steenhuisen will lead the party in Parliament, it may be short-lived. DA rules hold that, if the party leader is a member of parliament, they automatically become the parliamentary leader.
But it wouldn’t be the first time the DA has split the roles.
Athol Trollip and Lindiwe Mazibuko have both been parliamentary leaders, while Helen Zille was DA leader and Western Cape Premier.
It is not clear whether Steenhuisen has his sights on becoming the party’s Federal Leader.