Elections in October? Citizens would need to choose between health or right to vote, argues IFP

20 August 2021 - 15:01
By naledi shange AND Naledi Shange
The Constitutional Court is hearing an urgent application by the Electoral Commission, which wants the local government elections postponed. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times The Constitutional Court is hearing an urgent application by the Electoral Commission, which wants the local government elections postponed. File photo.

March, April or June 2022. These are the three months submitted by the ANC, EFF and IFP as alternative dates to hold elections as the parties supported the Electoral Commission’s (IEC) court application to have the next local government elections shifted from the existing date of October 27.

Addressing the Constitutional Court on Friday, Anthony Stein for the ANC said experts had suggested March 2022 was a “safer date” than October 2021, but if the court would be willing to set an outer limit, the beginning of April was a safer solution.

The EFF proposed the court direct co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zulu to table eased regulations allowing parties to gather to process their candidate nomination lists for the elections.

“Linked to that directive is the second part. The IEC must be directed to extend the date for nomination letter submissions from August 23,” Mfesane Ka-Siboto said for the EFF.

In his argument, Warren Shapiro, representing the IFP, said it was a “rare moment” unfolding in the Constitutional Court on Friday as opposition parties were in agreement that now was not a good time to hold elections.

Shapiro said SA citizens would have to bare the consequences if the apex court did not suspend the elections. Citizens, Shapiro said, would essentially be forced to choose between their health as they joined long voting queues or their democratic right to vote, adding they would be “put in the firing line”.

He said with the voters registration roll closed, holding elections now would also be unfair to many who had not been able to register.

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He proposed the elections be moved to May 22, saying by then millions of South Africans would have been vaccinated.

He stressed these were “exceptional circumstances that required exceptional action”.

Justice Leona Theron asked whether increasing the number of voting stations and ensuring citizens adhered to the Covid-19 regulations of social distancing, sanitising and wearing face masks was not a viable solution.

Shapiro said not entirely, citing Covid-19 fatigue as a factor.

What would happen to those who do not adhere to the regulations? Would they be pulled out of the lines and turned away,” asked Shapiro.

He stressed that vaccinations of voters would address these challenges.

Theron was not in complete agreement, however, saying people should be encouraged to be law-abiding instead of being given loopholes to be rebellious.

Shapiro suggested that to curb long queues at the polls, elections could be staggered over three days.

The Constitutional Court is hearing an urgent application by the IEC, which wants the local government elections postponed.

The commission contends that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is unable to organise constitutionally compliant local government elections that will be free, fair and safe in October.

The constitution provides that the term of a municipal council may be no more than five years and an election must be held within 90 days of the date the term of a municipal council expires.

The last local government elections were held on August 3 2016, and the term of municipal councils ended on August 3 2021. By law, the local government elections are required to be held by November 1.

The commission appointed former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to inquire whether it would be able to ensure free and fair local government elections if held in October in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations.

Moseneke recommended the elections were likely to be free and fair if held not later than the end of February 2022.

The commission is asking the court to postpone the election to February 28 2022.

Proceedings continue.