In the greater scheme of electoral hustle and bustle in our democracy, the by-election in the small Free State municipality of Metsimaholo is not remarkable.

Other local councils elected on August 3 2016, have collapsed in the last 15 months since that seismic event and by-elections have come and gone without fanfare.

But the by-election taking place on Wednesday in the Free State’s second largest economy deserves another look and, years from now, could even be considered to have been a historic watershed.

A delicately balanced coalition collapsed in July after the Democratic Alliance (DA), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Freedom Front Plus and the Metsimaholo Civic Association — all partners in the coalition government — failed to pass a budget.

As many as 16 parties are now contesting to take over governance of the municipality, from the ANC to the little known Forum 4 Service Delivery and the Congress of the People to an outfit called Power of African Unity, a Cope breakaway.

One contestant, however, sets the Metsimaholo election apart from, say, the by-election in Libode in the Eastern Cape or Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal.

In this unremarkable, faded industrial town suspended between the northern Free State and the nether reaches of Gauteng, the South African Communist Party (SACP) has decided to flex its muscles, or at least investigate whether it has any muscle.

The party, following a resolution from its July congress so controversial that there are still competing interpretations about its meaning, is fielding candidates in all 21 wards of the municipality. It is a decision that has led to much recrimination and gnashing of teeth in the tripartite alliance, and the ANC has not left many stops unpulled in its attempts to get its alliance partner to change its mind.

Structures that were long thought dormant — such as the Alliance Political Council — suddenly kicked into frenetic activity.