IEC: There will be chaos in 2024 polls if electoral system impasse not resolved by December
The commission warns civil society to seek middle ground with lawmakers who are seized with amendments to the Electoral Act to allow for independents to contest elections
If the confusion over what electoral system will be followed when SA goes for the watershed national and provincial elections in 2024 is not resolved, the country will be plunged into unprecedented chaos.
This is the view of the body responsible for organising and managing elections in the country, the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC).
The uncertainty is a result of the Constitutional Court judgment that compelled parliament to amend the Electoral Act to allow for independent candidates to contest national and provincial elections, without any affiliation to a political party. The next elections are two years away.
An IEC representative, speaking at the “Electoral Reform Indaba” organised by civil society movements on Friday, said if there is no certainty by December, there will be chaos.
According to the IEC, it needs at least 18 months to prepare for credible, free and fair elections in terms of a legal and agreed upon electoral system.
The event, convened in Braamfontein on Friday, was seized with questions of how to reform the country’s elections to take the power back to the voter and have a system that allows for public representatives to be held accountable.
This while parliament has asked for a deadline extension until December to deal with modalities of the electoral system that will be used in the next elections to meet the Constitutional Court order.
“I am putting it to you that we are not saying lose the opportunity to talk now but bear in mind that legislation, particularly legislation that has the need for constitutional amendments, is going to be something that may not be able to be done by December,” cautioned IEC vice-chairperson Janet Love.
“All we are saying to you as civil society, you need to figure out how on the one hand to insulate what the constitution requires for regular elections 2024 from what will become chaos if there is no clarity by December .
“We are saying there are ways you can engage with political parties [represented in parliament] and say maybe we do not get a full discussion, we do not lose the opportunity now, we do not get short-changed but we understand that for 2024 we may not get what we want but we want another time frame for beyond.”
Parliament, which is preoccupied with working out the details of an amendment that meets the apex court order, on Friday gave interested parties until September 16 to make submissions on the existing bill to meet the December deadline.
IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo told the gathering the IEC will need an uninterrupted 18 months to prepare for credible elections, with the 2024 polls set to be held any time between May and August of that year.
This meant there should be finality on which electoral system to use at least by January 2023, failing which the IEC will be faced with headaches it has never experienced before.
“The message that is prevailing, even from commentators and some of you here is that 2024 is likely to be a watershed election and if it is so the preparation and administration of that election must be well managed so that whoever emerges victorious can claim that victory without the loser saying, ‘I have lost poor management of the electoral process.’
“ Choices have to be made and it is not the station of the IEC to make the choices for the country but advise on the logistical and mechanical implications of the choices that have been made.”
Depending on what the envisaged new system for national and provincial polls is, warned Mamabolo, the IEC may have to print more than 70 million ballot papers — a nightmare owing to specifications of the ballot paper to be printed, with few printing companies in the country that can deliver on time.
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