A debate scheduled for eNCA on Wednesday night between the four candidates for the role of federal chairperson in the Democratic Alliance (DA) has been cancelled after a DA official stopped the four hopefuls from participating.

DA presiding officer of federal council elections Desiree van der Walt said she blocked the candidates – Helen Zille, Michael Waters, Athol Trollip, and Thomas Walters – from participating in the debate.

Van der Walt confirmed this at a DA media briefing ahead of the elections this weekend in Johannesburg, saying they were not permitted to debate due to the election being an internal party matter.

The channel’s spokesperson, Lerato Maboi, confirmed the cancellation earlier on Wednesday, but did not give a reason at the time, saying she would find out and inform The Citizen at a later stage.

This follows DA MP Mbali Ntuli tweeting that the debate had been cancelled. However, about two hours later the channel tweeted that it was indeed taking place and that members of the public could send their questions.

When called, Ntuli said both Helen Zille and Thomas Walters had told her the debate wasn’t happening.

The federal council chair position is likened in the DA to the role of a CEO in a company or secretary-general in other parties, and the most recent incumbent was James Selfe.

The elections come at a time when DA leader Mmusi Maimane is currently facing pressure from his critics in the party, who want him to step aside, in what has descended into a battle between different factions within the party.

The party’s organisational review panel is expected to soon table a report on how the DA lost some voter support and to recommend the direction the party should take in future.

The panel includes political strategist Ryan Coetzee, former party leader Tony Leon and Capitec Bank founder Michiel le Roux, and is expected to table the report before the party’s federal council on October 19.

It’s widely expected they will call for an early elective congress.

Zille, who announced that she would be contesting the position of federal chairperson after retiring from politics to join the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), has argued that the DA is ailing in part because of those who wanted to bring racial politics into it. She stressed that the party should “never try to mobilise members and supporters on a racial-nationalist ticket”.

She said she was running because she believed the DA was in trouble and needed stability.

She is believed to be neck-and-neck with the party’s other favourite, former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Trollip, who is believed to back Maimane, while Zille back’s the so-called “classical liberal” camp within the DA, which wants to see the back of the DA leader.

(Background reporting, Charles Cilliers.) 

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect why the debate was cancelled. 14:49, October 16. 

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