Motsoaledi tables bill that may see independent candidates contest elections

07 December 2021 - 16:34
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has tabled a bill which may see independent candidates contest the 2024 provincial and national elections. File photo.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has tabled a bill which may see independent candidates contest the 2024 provincial and national elections. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has tabled a bill that may see independent candidates contest the 2024 provincial and national elections for the first time in SA history.

If the bill is passed, however, prospective candidates will be subject to stringent guidelines. Explaining this before his parliamentary oversight committee on Tuesday, Motsoaledi said the aim was to strike a balance between serious citizens contesting and not making the qualification criteria “too easy to meet”.

Motsoaledi wants the bill to compel candidates to have sufficient support of registered voters, a prescribed monetary deposit and a residential qualification to ensure they only contest one region or province. 

“The precise threshold of supporter numbers and the precise amount of the monetary deposit will have to be carefully chosen to strike an appropriate balance between facilitating participation of serious independent candidates while not permitting too many independent candidates to contest the election such that it produces practical difficulties,” he said.  

The sentiments are in line with a Constitutional Court judgment in 2020 after a challenge by the New Nation Movement and others, who contested provisions limiting independent candidates from being directly elected. The apex court gave parliament 24 months to correct a defect in the Electoral Act which does not provide for independent candidates to stand for provincial and national elections.

Motsoaledi established a ministerial advisory committee after the judgment to develop policy options on the electoral system that addressed the defects of the act. In June he received a report providing feedback.

He said the committee was not able to reach consensus on a single system which would give effect to the judgment. The team, however, narrowed the issue to two options, classified as multi-member constituency (MMC), also known as the minority report, and the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, also known as the majority report.

The minority report entails modifying the existing multi-member electoral system to accommodate independent candidates in the national and provincial elections without many changes in the legislation.   

The majority report entails combining the first-past-the-post and proportional representation, making it a MMP system resembling the existing local government electoral system, albeit with some improvements. 

Motsoaledi told the committee that after consultations with stakeholders, they had opted to go with the minority report.

“Those in favour of this option believe it does not interfere with the constitutionally required general proportionality and is the best option for ensuring inclusiveness, gender representation, simplicity and fairness for independents,” the report states.

MPs hailed the comprehensive report and said it was evident hard work had gone into it. Some expressed concern about the seemingly short time frames.    

Liezl van der Merwe of the IFP said: “What worries me is the time frames we are left with. If we return to parliament in February next year, we will only have four months to finalise this amendment bill.

“We also have to embark on national public hearings because I do not think we can finalise this process without consulting our constituencies and the people we represent in parliament. Ultimately, it is them who should be deciding what changes they would like to see.”

MP Mosiuoa Lekota lamented Motsoaledi’s decision to support the MMC.

“We are asked to consider the minority report, not a report that gives space, something which apartheid denied us. Why are we so extremely limited?” he asked.

Lekota said parliament should go back to the drawing board or again approach the Constitutional Court.  

The bill is expected to be further processed and public consultations will take place to allow the legislature to amend the law ahead of the June 2022 deadline.  

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