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Civil society criticises new Electoral Bill

01 March 2022 - 15:28
The new Electoral Amendment Bill has come in for criticism in parliament. File photo.
The new Electoral Amendment Bill has come in for criticism in parliament. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander

Civil society groups have criticised the new Electoral Amendment Bill being processed by parliament.

The bill is meant to allow for independent candidates to stand for national and provincial government elections.

Tuesday was the first day of oral submissions to the home affairs portfolio committee on the bill which parliament has to pass by June, as directed by the Constitutional Court.

Mmusi Maimane’s One SA was the first to make a presentation to the committee, with its spokesperson Mudzuli Rakhivhane criticising the executive for drafting a new bill to present to parliament when Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota had already submitted a proposed bill to do the same.

“The reasons given for the undesirability of the bill are unmeritorious and not convincing. The committee firstly presumes there will be a need for extensive new demarcation to facilitate the constituency-based system. The bill specifically proposes using existing demarcation to save time and money,” said Rakhivhane, referring to the bill proposed by Lekota.

She further criticised the committee for wasting time processing the bill, saying it moved at a snail’s pace for 18 months and now wants the ConCourt to grant it more time to process the bill. 

Rakhivhane criticised the proposal that votes for independent candidates, if they surpass the required number to get a seat, would be discarded, saying with political parties the votes contribute to get a further seat. She said discarding votes also had a deleterious effect on the rights of citizens to vote

Mkangeli Matomela from the Citizen’s Parliament told the committee new legislation should empower citizens to take full responsibility holding those they voted for to account.

“The point here is that these seats [which independent candidates will contest for] must not belong to these individuals, because these did not nominate themselves. They were nominated by citizens within specific districts, therefore they must be individually and collectively accountable to those constituencies,” said Matomela. 

Rachel Fischer from Outa told the committee the bill was problematic on a number of levels.

She said Outa had found there was a lack of public participation in the process.

Fischer said the amendment bill merely accommodated independent candidates but not to the extent that it made it possible for the candidates to hold office.

“Independents are expected to jump over mathematical quota calculations only to retain a single seat even if they were to receive a majority proportion of the total vote,” she said.

Matthew Parks, deputy parliamentary co-ordinator of Cosatu, said the trade union federation supported the bill.

This was on the basis that parliament was abiding by a Constitutional Court ruling which mandated it to amend the Electoral Act.

Parks, however, warned the committee it did not have much time for the bill to be passed because it had to be in effect by 2024, and institutions like the Electoral Commission would need time to put its systems in place to implement the changes.

“We also think it's critical to avoid losing the positive aspects of the existing proportional system,” said Parks.

He urged the committee not to come up with a complicated system.

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