/ 18 June 2020

2021 local elections ‘will go ahead’

All three manifestos are scant on climate change, mentioning it in passing and “not in an eloquent way”. (Paul Botes/M&G)

Both the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters want the 2021 local government elections postponed, but the country’s electoral authority this week said it would take a “national consensus” to make the constitutional changes necessary to synchronise them with the national and provincial elections.

This week the ANC added its voice to the debate in favour of postponing the poll because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with its national working committee discussing the possibility of running the elections as a single event in 2024. At the beginning of the outbreak the EFF indicated its support for postponing the 2021 local government election on the grounds of health concerns and that key processes, including the demarcation of wards, had already been compromised by delays caused by the pandemic. 

At this stage, the bulk of the other parties represented in Parliament, including the Congress of the People, the Freedom Front Plus and the Democratic Alliance, are opposed to any postponement of the local government elections beyond the current legal cut-off date. In terms of the Constitution, the elections have to take place within 90 days of the expiry of the council’s terms of office, which means the poll cannot legally be delayed beyond November next year.

Last month the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) applied to the electoral court for an extension beyond the 90 days for a number of by-elections that had been delayed by the Covid-19 lockdown. But no such application has been made by the IEC for the 2021 poll, despite the delay in the demarcation process and the inability of parties to campaign under lockdown conditions.

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule said in a statement this week that the party’s national working committee had discussed a number of issues regarding the 2021 elections and the electoral process more broadly in the light of the delays and restrictions on movement imposed by the lockdown regulations.

These included alternative methods of allowing people to cast their votes, among them electronic voting, and the “desirability” of synchronising the local government elections with the 2024 national and provincial elections. Also debated was the introduction of a constituency-based system on the electoral process.

Magashule said the ANC was considering how to streamline the electoral process with a move towards a district development model — which envisages service delivery along dis-

trict municipality lines to improve its provision — and how to align budgeting and other processes across the three spheres of government.

He said the ANC’s governance subcommittee would look into the constitutional implications of delaying and synchronising the polls and would draft a series of proposals, which would be discussed by the party’s national executive committee.

IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela said the electoral agency remained on track to hold the election next year within the constitutional framework. She said reports that the IEC had proposed postponing the elections beyond the November 2021 cut-off date stipulated in terms of the constitution were “incorrect”.

The IEC had approached the electoral court for an extension for a number of by-elections beyond the 90-day period, which was granted.

With regard to the 2021 local government elections, Bapela said the IEC was still consulting Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The minister would then announce the date of the 2021 poll — or any proposal to change the date. Bapela said the consultations with

Dlamini-Zuma were “ongoing” and confirmed that reports that the IEC had proposed streamlining the local government poll with the national and provincial elections into a single event were also “incorrect”.

She said any discussion on legislative or constitutional changes to streamline elections would have to be driven by Parliament and civil society — not the IEC.

“Holding a single general election for all spheres of government each five years and electronic voting are among the potential considerations for Parliament. Our stakeholders, including political parties, media and civil society, are free to engage in the ensuing policy dialogue,” Bapela said.

“These matters are not a prerogative of the electoral commission, but require a collaborative effort and national consensus.”