Motlanthe could announce poll date on Friday

Will he or won’t he announce an election date? That is the question observers are asking ahead of President Kgalema Motlanthe’s first State of the Nation speech on Friday.

Motlanthe was meeting the head of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Brigalia Bam, in Cape Town on Wednesday to discuss a date for the poll, her office confirmed.

Presidential spokesperson Themba Maseko said this meant that the president could technically announce the date when he opens Parliament’s pre-election session on Friday.

“He may, or he may not, announce the date. It would be a good time to do so,” Maseko told Sapa.

The subject has caused confusion and controversy, with the African National Congress’s (ANC) youngest rival, the Congress of the People (Cope), accusing the government of planning to disenfranchise voters by announcing a poll date before the final weekend of voter registration takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

By law, registration for an election is no longer allowed once the president has proclaimed the date, to give the electoral commission time to prepare voters’ lists and post them at municipal offices for public inspection.

But IEC spokesperson Lydia Young pointed out that registration came to a halt not once the president announces the date, but only when he proclaims it in the Government Gazette.

“He can announce the date on Friday and then proclaim it on Monday or at the end of next week,” she said.

Political analyst Steven Friedman said it would be “unfortunate and regrettable” if Motlanthe did not announce the date on Friday, because it would liven up an otherwise predictably bland speech.

“I think it would be an appropriate moment to announce the date. He owes it to the country and there is no reason why he should not.
We are already in de facto election mode,” he said.

Friedman said for the rest, Motlanthe was bound to simply “tread water” with a low-key state of the nation address, tailor-made not to steal the thunder of his likely successor, Jacob Zuma.

“Firstly, there is a case to be made that there should not even be a State of the Nation address to set out the government programme because it is only going to be in office for another two or three months.

“Secondly, Motlanthe is really in a position where a significant part of the ANC would see any bold initiative as an indication that he is trying to make a play for Zuma’s job.”

Motlanthe has for weeks weathered rumours about his private life that are widely seen as a plot by Zuma supporters to dissuade him from trying to hold on to the post into which he was catapulted after Thabo Mbeki was recalled as head of state in September.

He has also been taken to task by the party for not acting fast enough to sign into law contentious Bills disbanding the Scorpions and giving MPs the power to sack the board of the public broadcaster.

The government information service said the president would use the speech to emphasise Parliament’s oversight role, and to stress the importance of the legislature taking input from citizens to “entrench people-centred democracy”.—Sapa

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