IEC 'technically ready' for 2021 local government elections
Preparing for the fifth municipal elections during the Covid-19 pandemic has presented the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) with one of the most difficult balancing acts, commission chairperson Glen Mashinini said on Wednesday.
“The commission is walking a tightrope. On one side is the tyranny of the elections becoming a super-spreader event, leading to further loss of human life.
“On the other side is the tyranny of the failure to adhere to the dictates of our constitution, leading to democratic backsliding and setting an undesirable precedent for the future,” said Mashinini.
He was speaking at the launch of the 2021 municipal elections mobilisation campaign.
Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the local government elections would take place on October 27. The announcement followed extensive consultations with the electoral commission and Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
It is anticipated that Dlamini-Zuma will make an official proclamation on the elections in August.
“The constitution provides two fundamental guidelines on elections. First, it requires that elections must be free and fair. And second, it sets a maximum term of office of five years for legislatures and municipal councils and allows 90 days from the expiry of the term to conduct elections,” Mashinini said.
What the constitution does not do, however, is define what constitutes “free and fair elections”, he said.
“The dilemma facing the commission and all of us is whether these same standards of freeness and fairness apply without amendment under such abnormal and challenging conditions.”
He said while remaining true to the constitution, the commission can’t be oblivious to the threats posed by the pandemic, as “all life is precious and we cannot act recklessly or irresponsibly. Yet equally, we cannot risk undermining the constitution.”
He said given the enormous ramifications of either postponing or proceeding with elections, the commission recently appointed former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to conduct an independent review of what constitutes “free and fair elections” under the current circumstances.
“This process may also identify additional mitigation measures to further fortify the elections against the impact of the pandemic and will help guide the commission and all of us in better understanding the requirements for free and fair elections, not only now but for the future.
“Based on the constitution, the law, operational readiness for the elections and a thorough assessment of the current pandemic conditions, the commission is of the view that we are technically ready to deliver the elections. Therefore we believe the 2021 municipal elections should proceed as things now stand.”
This assessment was conducted in consultation with health and disaster management authorities and various subject matter experts, he said.
“The commission has also drawn extensively on the experiences of more than 100 countries and territories around the world which have successfully held elections under Covid-19 conditions.”
Mashinini assured citizens that effective mitigation measures were in place to ensure the elections are conducted safely and Covid-19 protocols have been developed and tested successfully in more than 150 by-elections over the past seven months.
While calling on all stakeholders to support the IEC’s bid to hold a free and fair election, Mashinini said the elections are not about the political parties or independent candidates contesting in the elections. Instead, he said, they were about ordinary citizens.
200 parties and 65,000 candidates expected to contest: Mamabolo
IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo said preparations for the election, by the demarcation board, began two years ago.
“Despite this process being considerably affected and delayed by the pandemic during 2020, the board was able to provide the final ward boundaries to the commission in two batches.”
Mamabolo said the final ward count for this upcoming election is 4,468, an increase of 76 compared to 2016.
The handover allowed the commission to begin its final preparation, which included the finalisation of 23,151 voting stations — 539 more than in 2016.
There are 257 municipalities in SA, which are made up of eight metropolitan municipalities, 205 local municipalities and 44 district municipalities.
“The end results will be the election of almost 10,500 councillors into municipal councils. Predicating estimates from the 2016 local government elections and the recent flurry of party registration, especially at the local level, we anticipate that more than 200 political parties and over 65,000 candidates will contest these elections,” Mamabolo said.
On the voters' roll, Mamabolo said the electoral commission had spent the last five years, since March 2016, engaged in a comprehensive programme to update the voters' roll with address details after the ruling of the Constitutional Court on the matter.
“In March 2016, we had complete addresses for just over 8.5 million of the voters’ roll. Today this figure stands at 24.2 million. There are still over 1.2 million registered voters for whom we do not have address details.”
On the registration drive, Mamabolo said registration would open on July 17 and 18 in 23,151 voting stations.
He also noted the accepting of the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill by Ramaphosa, which among others, provides a special dispensation to allow any registered voter without address details to still participate in the elections once they have provided address details on election day. This will be subjected to a verification process, he said.
During the elections, voters are encouraged to follow all Covid-19 protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing and bringing their own pens, even though pens will be sanitised during the process.