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IEC ready for elections, but says Covid-19 trajectory is unknown factor

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) says it is technically ready and all systems are in place to host a free and fair democratic local government election in October, despite growing concern about a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“There were two schools of thought that said we should postpone the election from political parties, others said we should consider these elections to be moved to 2024 and merge with the general elections,” said IEC chair Glen Mashinini at a South African Local Government Association (Salga) conference on Thursday.

“Another school [of thought] said, let’s wait for six months to a year and see how the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds. 

“However, the legal reality is that elections have to be hosted this year. Neither the department of health nor the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs has come to us and given any indication as to why we won’t be able to hold the general elections,” he added.

“We are adamant that we will host a free and fair election in October. We are hoping that the vaccination [drive] would have advanced by then. But it [vaccinations] is not a prerequisite for us to host the elections.” 

Sy Mamabolo, the chief executive of the IEC, assured the Salga leaders assembly that the organisation would deliver a free and fair election.

“We have procured all logistical requirements needed to run the election. From ballot papers, to vaccination of the sites that will be used. Our uncertainty comes from the trajectory of the pandemic, even though mechanisms are in place, we don’t know how that is going to pan out.” 

He said the IEC would ensure a strict consideration of all disaster management regulations. 

“The next couple of months will give us a crucial stance for us to decide the probability of a free and fair election [given the pandemic and its possible effect on voter turnout].”

“… voter turnout is critical, it helps and informs us of how much people are engaged in the local democracy.” 

Mamabolo said the commission was not anticipating a drop in voter turnout, but it would not “relax” and would shortly be embarking on a countrywide media campaign on voter education, which would use national and local radio stations and the print media.

“The planning process is in full force already and we will announce our approach to these elections soon. Plans are at an advanced stage.” 

Mamabolo stressed that it was up to the government, not up to the IEC, to decide whether elections would take place.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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