SA expats voting: IEC Bill adopted amid DA court bid

The National Assembly on Thursday adopted the Electoral Amendment Bill amid a Democratic Alliance court bid to have it rewritten to secure a provincial vote for South Africans living abroad.

The Bill, which gives expatriates the right to vote for the National Assembly only, was approved by all parties except the official opposition.

The party found itself accused of attempted "vote-rigging" by Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan. She said it was common knowledge that the DA was lobbying all its supporters abroad to cast provincial votes in Gauteng in the 2014 elections should the court case succeed.

"It creates huge opportunities to skew the outcome of the provincial election. In plain language this is called vote-rigging," she said.

The DA's Masizole Mnqasela insisted that by the Bill was disenfranchising expatriates.

"The DA believes that there should be no restraints whatsoever on the ability of citizens to exercise their right to vote. The Bill undermines democracy and the fundamental right to vote as enshrined in the Constitution," he said.

Mnqasela caused a stir in the portfolio committee on home affairs where the Bill was finalised this week, by suggesting that if the DA's proposals were adopted, the party would drop its court challenge.

Common practice
This earned a stern rebuke from the Congress of the People's Graham McIntosh, who repeated his view on Thursday that the DA "was holding pistols to the head of Parliament" by turning to the Western Cape High Court to have its way with legislation.

ANC MP Andre Gaum rubbished the DA's contention that it was common practice to allow expatriates to vote in provincial elections, saying it was precisely not the case from Angola to Australia and from Botswana to the United Kingdom.

Apart from international practice going against the DA's argument, he said, it would create a logistical nightmare to send provincial ballots back to voting districts in South Africa. This would undermine the integrity of the elections as the Independent Electoral Commission would be forced to rely on external transport services.

The Bill gives effect to a successful application brought by the Freedom Front Plus (FPP) in the Constitutional Court on the eve of the 2009 elections to secure South Africans abroad the right to vote for the National Assembly.

But in Thursday's debate on the legislation, the FFP's Corné Mulder said his party could not side with the DA's position that provincial voting rights should be added and believed its court bid was doomed.

"You know very well it is not going to happen. It is extremely opportunistic. You want to play for votes," he said.

"For once in your life be realistic."

The IEC has been anxious for the Bill to be passed to give it time to process regulations stemming from it and prepare for the elections, expected to be held in April or May. – Sapa

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