Minor parties are creating a stink around Pansy Tlakula to cast doubt around the elections when they perform poorly as expected, say their critics.
There may be growing calls for chair of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Pansy Tlakula, to step down ahead of May 7 elections, but the parties vying for that option represent just 2.5% of the last electorate.
Critics say their calls are little more than political opportunism to hedge their bets should their election results be as disappointing as expected.
Already, leaders such as United Democratic Movement's (UDM) Bantu Holomisa and Julius Malema from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have spoken of civil war should the results be questionable. The fear is they are preparing the ground to call the results into question should they perform badly at the polls, conveniently using Tlakula's misdemeanours to explain their poor performance.
Ironically, political analyst Steven Friedman believes giving these parties what they want is the only way to prevent such political opportunism.
"You don't want a situation where people could cry sour for no reason," he told the Mail & Guardian.
"I'm not even saying she should go permanently, I'm saying it would make sense to protect the credibility of the election, for her to step aside until after May 7 and then evaluate the situation after that … I don't think Pansy Tlakula's role as chair for the next few weeks is so vital that it bears compromising the election," he said, adding that this applied even if there was no valid reason for her to step aside.
Led by Holomisa, a collection of small parties that are part of a multiparty forum met last week Tuesday and issued a statement demanding Tlakula resign thanks to her role in a botched leasing deal.
But not all parties represented at the forum agreed with the call, with the opposition Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus dissenting.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) released a statement on Tuesday also distancing their organisation from the call, and calling their mistaken inclusion "mischievous".
That leaves just four minor parties from the current political representatives as proponents of the notion that Tlakula should step down, with less than a month to go before the country's pivotal fifth general election: the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Azapo, the, United Christian Democratic Party, and Holomisa's UDM, who collectively represent about 2.5% of the seats in Parliament. They are joined by newcomers Agang SA and the EFF, who have been vocal on the matter.
The forum itself is a fraction of the parties who regularly meet with the IEC around election planning in the official forum of the political liaison committee (PLC), which includes current parties represented in Parliament and new parties contesting national elections this time around.
The parliamentary heavy hitters – the ruling ANC, the official opposition the DA as well as the Inkatha Freedom Party – and other parties agree that Tlakula should stay on in the interest of a stable election.
'Unmanaged conflict of interest'
Public protector Thuli Madonsela found in August 2013 that Tlakula flouted procurement regulations in securing a R320-millon lease for the IEC's head office in Centurion and held an "unmanaged conflict of interest" as a result of her and business associate Thaba Mufamadi's separate and undisclosed business relationship.
A forensic audit commissioned by treasury into the matter largely confirmed Madonsela's findings. Both reports have outlined remedial action, which the other leaders at the IEC, the four commissioners who serve alongside Tlakula, have committed to implementing.
But they first want to get elections out of the way, and the parties that don't think Tlakula should step down just yet agree with their reasoning.
"We remain of the viewpoint that [advocate] Tlakula, in the interest of free, fair and stable elections, should be allowed to stay at the helm of the IEC for now," said the IFP.
Other sources in the PLC agreed.
"I think what is happening was a bit of posturing, particularly by the smaller parties who are trying to make capital of the position the chairperson finds herself in," said one. "If there was a determination that corruption had taken place we would be first in line to say action must be taken immediately but neither the public protector's report nor the audit determined corruption was involved here."
The representative said the clamour for Tlakula's resignation was a political ploy on the part of small parties. "It allows them to disclaim very poor results when the poor results arrive."
The EFF are gunning for a big chunk of the votes and have repeatedly stated they are running to win the elections. However they are unlikely to get more than 10% of the vote according to analysts.
"He's taking out forward cover for a result that is going to be less than he is expecting," said the representative. Friedman agreed, saying the EFF "is almost certain to cry sour at the end of these elections. It's been saying it'll control nine provinces but will end with 3% to 4% of the vote."
The UDM and ACDP's support too has been steadily declining in Parliament over the years.
Another major party representative at the PLC agreed that the calls for Tlakula's resignation were in the interest of survival. "They're creating a climate where you can't trust the IEC, you can't trust the process," they said, after detailing several moot questions raised by the smaller and new parties that revealed their ignorance about election issues.
"I'm not sure why they're creating this climate of fear – are they worried they 're not going to get as many votes as they want?" they asked.
'Nothing to do with freeness and fairness'
A third party representative at the PLC told the M&G they also doubted the motives behind the calls for Tlakula's resignation.
"Her position has nothing to do with the freeness and fairness of elections," they said. "I think its nonsense – because they are new and inexperienced, they don't know how things work. They don't fully realise the role of the IEC and they don't understand the tremendous weight the IEC is carrying and the risk [it poses] to a free and fair election when suddenly all the attention is pulled into this nonsense."
The ANC has been vocal on the matter and, in a rare moment, agreed with opposition parties. The party released a statement last week saying it "shares the sentiment held by many parties in the PLC for the need to support and strengthen the work of the IEC instead of seeking to demonise its leadership and disrupt its functioning 34 days before election day".
"Any calls therefore for the resignation of the IEC chairperson, we view as opportunistic, malicious and designed to cast doubt over the credibility of the general election of 2014."
Friedman believes that calling the credibility of the elections in question without merit is "irresponsible" but believes that Tlakula should resign if so many parties intend using her position to possibly call into question the election results.
"There is no logical connection between Tlakula's financial dealings and the outcome of the election being free and fair," he said. "However the fact is elections are about perceptions and credibility ... The credibility of elections is about losers. If people are part of the process beforehand, they can't cry sour after."