/ 6 November 2007

End of floor-crossing in sight?

The issue of floor-crossing should be resolved within months, says MP Vytjie Mentor, who chairs a parliamentary committee dealing with the matter.

”We were hoping … to bring this matter to a close by March or April next year,” she told a joint meeting with the home affairs committee on Tuesday. ”So we are planning that by March or April next year, if it is OK with the Independent Electoral Commission [IEC], and if it is OK with the home affairs committee, we should have laid this matter to rest for once and for all.”

Her committee is currently dealing with two draft Bills in this regard — one proposed by the Democratic Alliance and the other by the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The matter has been on her committee’s agenda for a long time, and the committee has commissioned a survey to obtain public opinion on floor-crossing, she said.

Mentor said: ”We don’t think that floor-crossing strengthens democracy. We have not seen empirical proof that it strengthens democracy.”

Home affairs committee chairperson Patrick Chauke agreed there is a need to speed up the process.

Earlier, IEC chairperson Brigalia Bam told the meeting that floor-crossing is ”unique and a little complicated” in South Africa. It happens in a proportional representation system, where ”you are in Parliament because your party put you in Parliament”.

”And that makes it a South African peculiarity: that in spite of the fact that you are not there as an individual, you have right to exercise your right, but in fact it’s your party that put you there.”

Bam expressed concern over perceptions that an exchange of money and fraud feature in floor-crossing. While she is confident this is not true, the perceptions creates an image problem for a young democracy such as South Africa’s.

”But this is a crisis for us, in our image. I can assure you, bribery makes us nervous, whether it’s true or not. Fraud makes us nervous,” Bam said. ”We cannot afford [it]. We have to protect the image; not only the image of the electoral commission as an institution — we want to protect the image of this nation.” — Sapa