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IEC urges parliament to expedite amendments to electoral law

26 June 2020 - 07:05 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA
The next general elections are less than four years away.
The next general elections are less than four years away.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has urged parliament to move with speed in amending the electoral system to enable independent candidates to stand in future national and provincial elections.

Key among the IEC's concerns is that the next general elections are less than four years away, and that it generally takes them a minimum of two years to prepare for an election.

The electoral body said it was concerned that the 24 months parliament has to amend the law may not be enough if lawmakers don't start the amendment process early enough.

The Constitutional Court gave parliament 24 months to remedy the defects in the Electoral Act.

“We really wish to urge parliament to start immediately with this huge task so that we don't wait for 24 months to start working,” said chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo.

IEC bosses told the National Assembly's portfolio committee on home affairs that the landmark Constitutional Court judgment could see the systems the commission had created over the past 25 years being undone and new ones created.

Mamabolo said the new electoral system could mean reconstructing the whole electoral edifice that has been there for years and rewriting ICT business applications which would take at least a year.

He said depending on the nature of the new electoral system and what parliament decides to do, the number and size of ballot papers will be affected.

“If for instance, constituencies are introduced nationally, it will mean we will need to have a constituency ballot which is different from one constituency to the other,” said Mamabolo.

There would also be a possible delimitation of constituencies, he said.

There was also a possibility that IEC staff would need to be retrained and a possible reconfiguration of the commission's local offices required because it would need to have constituency offices.

Counting and declaration of results and the modalities of voting would also be affected. “It may mean that we would have to consider other ways of voting, given a potential increase in the number of ballots that may be required.”

Other changes would include:

  • candidate nominations system which is also predicated on lists

  • the results systems for capturing results

  • seat calculation and seat assignment are also geared within the logic and framework of the proportional representation system

  • logistics information system.

MPs also heard that the municipal demarcation board requires 24 months to draw municipal wards from an existing base, but for new constituencies, there would be no base to work from.

That demarcation process has to include public participation.

Mamabolo said these were the reasons parliament needed to get to work rapidly,, otherwise they would be left with little time to prepare for the elections in 2024.

The constitutional court declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional earlier this month in that it does not provide for independent candidates to contest these elections if they are not affiliated to a political party.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi agreed with the IEC that work to amend the laws needed to start as early as possible.

He revealed that President Cyril Ramaphosa's cabinet has established a committee to co-ordinate the government's response to the ruling and to make sure that there are no delays in the process.

He said parliament's legal advisors had already requested him to develop a plan on how the executive was planning to address the legislative defects. The plan will be provided to the portfolio committee for consideration.

Home Affairs portfolio committee chairperson Bongani Bongo said the plan parliament requested would put everything in motion.

“It is that plan that will determine whether we will go to court to ask the court that 24 months is not enough. We must have empirical evidence to go to the court,” he said.