ANC walks a tightrope on holding polls during a pandemic

Party says that if the local government elections scheduled for October can't take place, it wants a postponement of no longer than four months.

02 July 2021 - 19:44
By andisiwe makinana AND Andisiwe Makinana
ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte says that if the local government elections scheduled for October can't take place, the party wants a postponement of no longer than four months.. File photo.
Image: Daylin Paul ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte says that if the local government elections scheduled for October can't take place, the party wants a postponement of no longer than four months.. File photo.

The ANC is walking a tightrope on the holding of elections in a pandemic without endangering lives.

The party has advised the Electoral Commission to continue with plans for the local government elections to be held on October 27.

“It can be done if this wave subsides in time,” said ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte on Friday.

If that is not possible, it would prefer a maximum four-month postponement of the vote.

Duarte was presenting the ANC's submission to the Moseneke inquiry which is tasked with investigating whether the IEC can hold free and fair elections during a pandemic.

Duarte said if the restrictions on gatherings are not lifted soon or the third wave intensifies, the IEC should request the Constitutional Court to postpone the elections for the shortest possible period — a minimum of one month and a maximum of six months.

The scientific projection of waves and their duration should be used to determine the length of the postponement.

“In our written submission, we argued for a maximum of four months but that may not be realistic if we are in the midst of a large wave by year-end that carries on for longer than previous waves,” she said.

Duarte recommended that a suitable election date should be preceded by at least three months at alert level 1 or alert level 2 only. This would enable political parties to hold gatherings and run a campaign.

“Ideally the election should be timed just before a new wave starts rising as they seem to come every six months. Oct. 27 may still fit this condition,” she said.

She also remarked that by-elections were held in November and December last year during the rise of the second wave of Covid-19 and in May 2021 during the rise of the third wave under alert levels 1 and 2 with no Covid-19 outbreaks and that all parties adapted to the new reality.

“No party used the Covid restrictions as a basis to object to the outcome of any by-elections. This implies that restrictions did not make a material difference to the outcome of the elections.

“Electoral support for bigger parties was largely maintained at the same percentage of the vote they received in 2019. Support for small parties and independents grew,” she said.

Duarte explained that election campaigning for the ANC involves identifying every possible supporter, mobilising them to register, engaging them on their concerns, winning their support by explaining to them what the party offers and getting every ANC voter to go to the voting station on election.

The party would need at least three months to reach voters, persuade them, talk to them and to help them understand the manifesto, she added.

“And it is not the big meetings that count, frankly speaking. The big rally in the stadium is less important than the knock on the door to a person and the one-on-one-conversation.

“From that point of view, we know that campaigning is possible under alert level 1 and 2 but levels 3 and 4 make election campaigning impossible,” she said. This was due to restrictions on movement and restrictions on gatherings under those levels.

Duarte also requested the chairperson of the inquiry, retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, to recommend that the IEC postpone the voter registration weekend which is scheduled for July 17 and 18, until at least 10 days after the total ban on gatherings ends.

The IEC would then, together with the party liaison committee, revisit the draft timetable to make up some of the lost time for candidate selection and nomination.

“We believe it is possible to find an extra 10 days and shift candidate registration closer to the end of August. The timetable is currently about 86 days long and we have in the past completed all steps in less than 70 days. It will be a challenge for the IEC but it is possible,” said Duarte.

If the severity of Covid-19 restrictions prevented the IEC from registering voters or preparing for elections, or if it seriously impacts on free and fair elections, the IEC may have to approach the Constitutional Court and ask for a postponement of a few months, she said.

This would have to be on the grounds that it will be impossible to fulfil the IEC mandate to run a free and fair election; and in addition, that it could undermine the similarly important right to life, dignity and healthcare.

Duarte noted that countries like Benin, Namibia, Uganda, the US and South Korea held safe elections during Covid-19, saying it was not dangerous to vote as elections happen in a controlled environment, with access control and simple ways to impose social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitising and marking of fingers.

To avoid congestion at voting stations, the IEC could extend the two-day special voting to three including the Sunday before the elections, proposed the ANC.

It recommended that all people over 40 and those who have to work on election day could be included as special voters.

“If the extra day is unaffordable, we should consider moving election day to Tuesday, Oct. 26,” said Duarte.