Thu Oct 27 15:00:58 SAST 2016

IEC must do better if we are to have a free and fair poll

The Times Editorial | 12 April, 2016 00:37

For the first time since 1994, the ability of the Independent Electoral Commission to deliver a free, fair and credible election is called into question.

This is not so much because the IEC, whose unimpeachable integrity helped shepherd South Africa through the chaotic general election of 1994, has suffered severe reputational damage in recent years - first when its chair, Pansy Tlakula, had to be forced to resign because of a conflict of interest, then when a man close to President Jacob Zuma was chosen to succeed her in the face of blanket objections from the opposition.

As the polls approach, organisational difficulties present a more compelling challenge to the IEC than the image problems.

It got a drubbing in November when the Constitutional Court ruled that by-elections it oversaw in Tlokwe were not free and fair because the addresses of voters had not been verified.

Since that ruling, the IEC has been frantically trying to remedy matters by holding registration weekends. It is also seeking clarity from the court as to whether the addresses of all 25million voters must be captured - an unprecedented undertaking - or only those who registered after the ruling.

But events this past weekend - officially the last opportunity voters had to register en masse at their local polling stations - offer no comfort that the commission will be able to turn things around before elections in August.

It sent SMS messages to 5.3million people asking them to bring proof of address to their local voting stations, but said it could not reach another eight million potential voters whom it will now advise through a radio campaign to register at their local IEC office.

Moreover, at several polling stations at the weekend IEC volunteers were simply recording address details supplied without verifying them. This defeats the whole point of the exercise.

In the interests of fairness it is incumbent on the IEC to hold another registration weekend, preceded by a national publicity drive.


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