On Thursday January 10, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) passed the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill and it will now be referred to the president for assent, after which it will become law.
The Democratic Alliance proposed two amendments to the Bill:
- First, to provide increased powers for the Independent Electoral Commission to increase the number of suitable voting venues abroad, which would allow South Africans there to vote at any suitable venue. The Bill, as it stands, limits the voting stations available to the South African diaspora to embassies, high commissions or consulates; and
- Second, to allow one form of identification to be produced by South Africans abroad, instead of two forms of identification, which the Bill currently requires.
After submitting our proposed amendments to the secretary and the chairperson of the NCOP, they were added to the order paper for the day, which should have allowed for the full sitting of members to consider the material substance of such proposals during the plenary.
Unfortunately, during the sitting, NCOP chairperson Thandi Modise ruled that she would refuse to allow the proposed amendments to be considered by the members present for procedural reasons. Her reasoning for this decision was that the proposed amendments should have been introduced when the Bill was being considered in the National Assembly, because they did not pertain to the original amendments being considered in the Bill, and that the Bill was tagged as a Section 75 Bill, which does not affect provinces. Modise, in her conclusion, declared that the DA’s proposed amendments amounted to a new Bill and, if the amendments were to be allowed, it could possibly render the Bill before the council both constitutionally and procedurally out of order.
The DA considers her ruling on the matter as being both a flawed and narrow interpretation of the rules of the NCOP and the Constitution.
Furthermore, the DA is of the opinion that Modise violated the constitutional rights of all South Africans abroad by refusing to allow our proposed amendments to the Bill to be considered.
The Bill, in its current form, places an undue burden on South Africans abroad and would limit their ability to exercise their constitutional right to vote. South Africans living far away from political capitals in which consulates and embassies are situated will be especially affected.
The DA’s proposed amendments would have ensured that the vast and diverse diaspora of South Africans would be able to exercise their democratic right to vote without additional bureaucratic requirements.
Modise’s interpretation of the rules of procedure in the NCOP was not only disingenuous, but also procedurally incorrect. Her finding will make voting inaccessible to thousands.
The DA has written a petition to the president asking that he consider remitting the Bill back to Parliament based on procedural irregularities.
This petition is premised on the simple fact in law that, regardless of Modise’s interpretation of the rules, the NCOP has the constitutional power to consider, pass, propose amendments to or reject section 75 Bills, as stated in Section 68 of the Constitution.
The chairperson further violated the procedures and rules of the NCOP by denying the DA’s proposed amendments for consideration by the council, as concerned by Rule 212.
Any further action to sign this Bill into law without it first being referred back to Parliament for the proposed amendments to be considered would amount to an abuse of process, and a violation of members’ rights to propose amendments to section 75 Bills in terms of the Constitution.
Cathy Labuschagne is the leader of the DA in the NCOP