The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has reopened the process of submitting candidates for the 2021 local government elections, effectively throwing the ANC a lifeline in 93 municipalities in which it had missed the deadline for nominations.
Opposition parties have reacted angrily to the decision, which was announced by the IEC on Monday, 6 September in response to the Constitutional Court ruling setting aside the original election date of 27 October, originally proclaimed by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Democratic Alliance (DA) federal council chairperson Helen Zille said the party had briefed its legal team to go to court and halt the reopening of the candidate registration process as it gave the ANC “an advantage that other parties have never enjoyed”.
IEC commissioner Glen Mashinini said the electoral body had taken legal advice on how to implement the Constitutional Court ruling and had decided that the date for nomination of candidates should be set after the final weekend of voter registration, which would take place on 18 and 19 September.
Mashinini said that while there had been “divergent opinions” among the political parties over the decision as some parties did “not agree with the interpretation”, the majority of parties had been appreciative of the decision to amend the election timetable in this way.
The ANC had faced potentially losing control in a large number of municipalities before a single vote was cast when it missed the cut-off for candidate registration.
The party had gone to the electoral court to ask that the registration be reopened, but withdrew its action in anticipation of the Constitutional Court ruling on the IEC application to postpone the vote to February next year. The court dismissed that application in a judgment handed down on Friday and also ruled that the current date of 27 October was “unconstitutional, invalid and is set aside”.
Mashinini said the IEC had the responsibility to deliver a credible election under safe conditions while complying with the court order.
An additional 40 000 electronic handsets would be used to assist in voter registration, which would be conducted at 23 151 voting stations over the two-day period.
Thereafter, Dlamini-Zuma would announce the election date on 20 September, after which the voter roll would close.
At this point candidate registration would take place, Mashinini said.
Candidates could only be nominated once they were registered on the voter roll, which meant that candidate registration would be held after 20 September.
Mashinini said it would be “premature” to comment on any court action by the DA.
“The decision the commission has made has been carefully considered. The commission has taken the necessary legal advice on the matter. It is not a decision that has been taken recklessly,”’ Mashinini said. “It has been taken in the interest of free and fair elections based on solid legal advice in the light of the Constitutional Court order.”
Mashinini said protocols in response to Covid-19 had been agreed upon with the parties in a bid to make election day safer.
The IEC, he said, could not have imagined that the pandemic would last as long as it has and had been forced by circumstances to create a truncated timetable for the municipal poll.
Thus far, 77 970 candidates, 911 of whom are independents, have been registered.