Anyone can be an MP - but parliament now has to decide how many make it

Thursday's Constitutional Court judgment leaves politicians with tough choices

11 June 2020 - 16:39 By ERNEST MABUZA
Parliament has been given two years to amend the Electoral Act to ensure that individual citizens on their own, not through political parties, can stand as MPs or MPLs.
Parliament has been given two years to amend the Electoral Act to ensure that individual citizens on their own, not through political parties, can stand as MPs or MPLs.
Image: GULSHAN KHAN / AFP

The Constitutional Court judgment on Thursday, which allows for individuals not belonging to political parties to stand for elections for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures, poses a number of questions that parliament must deal with.

One of these is how many independent candidates should be in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

Political analyst Prof Dirk Kotze said the judgment had a variety of implications that parliament has to decide on over the two years given by the court to amend the law.

Kotze said the constitution currently states that the National Assembly should have between 350 and 400 members.

“The National Assembly has 400 members. The legislature has to decide how many of these 400 are going to be individual members. That must be decided in advance,” Kotze said.

He said another decision to be taken was whom those individuals represent.

“I guess that SA must be divided into 50 constituencies and for each there must be one representative.”

Kotze said the judgment meant a radical reform of the electoral system had to happen.

“Most people have been in favour of a more directly representative system, where its representatives are directly elected by voters,” Kotze said.

Kotze said some of the electoral reforms which parliament could consider are contained in the Report of the Electoral Task Team, which was chaired by Dr Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert.

The report was published in January 2003. The task team was formed to craft the new electoral legislation required by the constitution.

The team recommended a multi-membership constituency system with between three and seven members in the National Assembly. They said this would require about 69 multi-member constituencies to provide 300 representatives for the National Assembly.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the judgment had far-reaching implications.

“The ruling says the current system, where people can be voted to the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures through the party ticket, is unconstitutional. The current electoral system has to be reformed. This is a major reform.”

Mathekga said to allow the election of individuals not belonging to political parties as MPs and MPLs, parliament should consider whether to follow the constituency model.

“It points to the broader overhaul of the electoral system.”

Mathekga said the reality is that the public should not be carried away in believing that the new system would bring about accountability from the individuals.

“Accountability depends how voters relate to the people they vote for. As an example, the local government system allows for individuals to be elected directly.”

Mathekga said this did not stop the perception that there is no accountability in the local government sphere.

In a statement in the wake of the ruling, parliament said it had filed a notice to abide by the court’s decision.

“Parliament respects the judgment of the Constitutional Court, and will study its practical implications in relation to its obligations on the legislature,” the statement read.


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