The lack of accountability in SA's electoral system

The ruling African National Congress had not ruled out alternatives to the current electoral system, provided these did not undermine the core values of fairness, inclusivity and simplicity, the Electoral Task Team said on Tuesday.

ETT chairman Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert was speaking at the end of a two-day conference in which fault lines were drawn on the issue of the accountability to the electorate of elected representatives.

He also expressed sympathy for the view that there should be a general referendum, to test public opinion on whether a change to the electoral system was necessary.

The two-day conference was dominated by the question of accountability, with many delegates of the opinion that the lack of accountability was the greatest weakness in the current system.

The task team has to come up with recommendations on whether the electoral system should change and must also draft a bill to be submitted to the government.

In closing remarks to delegates, Slabbert said the values that stood out in the current system were those of fairness, inclusivity and simplicity.

On criticism from ANC MPs that the conference had been dominated by the accountability issue, he said the task team was not obsessed with the issue.

Nor was it prepared to sacrifice the three principles “for a complicated system of accountable politics”.

However, a solution had to be found, Slabbert said.

“We are going to come with recommendations and if it does not find favour with the powers that be, then it’s absolutely their prerogative to deal with our recommendations as they see fit.

“But what I’m not prepared to accept is that it’s all a waste of time. That it doesn’t mean a damn thing what you say or what you come up with, we—whoever we is—have made up our minds.”

Speaking at a press briefing, Slabbert said the ETT had not finalised its proposals and would still have final consultations with political parties in October.

The ETT would then meet to consider the options and make proposals to Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who would take it to Cabinet.

On suggestions that the ANC was closed to a system that would allow greater accountability, Slabbert said the party was open to alternatives, provided these did not undermine the core values of fairness, inclusivity and simplicity.

ETT member Wilmot James said in his private talks with ANC members, there was certainly an openness towards looking at strengthening the political system.

“But clearly they require good arguments in favour of any other option.”

ETT member Tefo Raditapole acknowledged accountability was an issue, but said that even in the task team itself, members differed about the mechanics.

Another ETT member, Pansy Tlakula, emphasised accountability should not be looked at in isolation.

“There are four values. The three are equally as important as accountability.
The question that needs to be asked is whether we should tinker with our present system simply to take care of the issue of accountability.”

ETT member Fink Haysom said most parties had expressed some degree of hesitancy about changing the system, and that smaller parties were apprehensive.

Smaller parties have most to lose if the system changes.

Asked about a survey commissioned by the task team in which the overwhelming majority of respondents said they would prefer to elect the president directly, Slabbert said: “It’s a huge puzzle to me, how it got in there.”

“It’s got nothing to do with our mandate. One would have to change the Constitution to make that possible.

“It’s an interesting point, but it will have to develop its own career independent of the electoral task team.”

The ETT had been inundated with issues that fell outside its mandate, but were nevertheless relevant, Slabbert said.

“We thought of drawing up a list—saying, look it’s not our job to solve these problems—but these problems came up over and over again, and we suggest Parliament or whoever should take note of these issues.” - Sapa

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