IEC in a race to hold 111 by-elections delayed by Covid-19 before February

16 September 2020 - 14:38 By aphiwe deklerk
Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson Glen Mashinini.
Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson Glen Mashinini.
Image: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Mabuti Kali

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is in a race against time to ensure it holds at least 111 by-elections across the country which were postponed by Covid-19.

After the announcement of the lockdown by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March, the IEC has had to approach the electoral court to postpone all by-elections.

But now the electoral body only has until February next year to ensure all the by-elections are held.

According to the Municipal Structures Act, by-elections cannot take place six months or less before local government elections.  

IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini who was interacting with the South African National Editors Forum, said the clearing of by-elections was urgent. His words come as Ramaphosa is due to address the nation on Wednesday night, when he is expected to announce the easing of regulations and the country moving to lockdown level 1.

He said the by-elections were postponed due to “the priority of protecting human lives and ensuring the safety of the voters”.

Mashinini said the lockdown rules affected parties campaigning for by-elections during this period.

“There are positive indications of declining infections and rising recovery rate ... we hope that this will further be complemented by the government's favourable adjustment of the regulations,” said Mashinini.

Mashinini said after consultation with co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, they were confident that conditions for free and fair elections would soon be realised.

“We are now drawing up plans for all outstanding by-elections to be held on a single day, once consultations on these are completed,” said Mashinini.

IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo said the 111 by-elections they are looking to hold do not include Tshwane's, as the council was dissolved by the Gauteng government early this year. The Tshwane matter is still being battled out in both the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court after the DA successfully challenged the decision by the Gauteng government to dissolve the council.

Mashinini further stated that the commission was preparing to hold elections between August and November next year, despite earlier calls by some political parties, including the ANC and the EFF, to postpone the elections and hold a singular one together with the national and provincial elections in four years' time.

The calls were prompted by a ruling of the Constitutional Court which found the Electoral Act to be unconstitutional because it did not allow for independent candidates to stand for national and provincial elections.

But staying on the matter, Mashinini cautioned that the constitution provided for a maximum of a five-year term.

“The commission is of the view that it would be far more constitutionally sound for a term of office to be shortened rather than to be extended. As you know the constitution sets a limit of five years for legislatures,” said Mashinini.

He said any proposal to merge elections could only be realistically considered after next year’s local government elections.

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