/ 25 September 2023

IEC want Concourt ruling on electoral amendment challenge

The IEC announced on Tuesday that only one of the 52 objections
The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has urged eligible citizens to make use of its online registration platform to minimise long queues . (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has called on the constitutional court to deliver its decision on a challenge to the Electoral Amendment Act, to give it time to act on the ruling ahead of general elections set for next May.

The IEC’s deputy chief executive, Mashego Sheburi, said although the commission respected the public’s right to challenge the Act, it would be helpful for the case to be completed in time for it to implement the court judgment.

“We accept that people have a right to enforce their rights, where they think their rights are not being respected, and the court process is one of those we respect and we’re all for that people go to court to clear things,” Sheburi said.

“But our only issue is the time, we would have appreciated it if people go to court while there’s still time to act consistently with what the court determines.”

The Independent Candidates Association (ICA), One South Africa (OSA) and the Rivonia Circle have approached the constitutional court seeking to have the amendment of the Act declared unconstitutional and scrapped.

The applicants say the new threshold imposed for entry under the electoral amendments will make it impossible for independents to compete in the elections. They say the IEC can use the same rules that allow independents to contest municipal elections, to permit them to stand in next year’s national elections.

In its papers, One South Africa argued that the Act’s requirement that independent candidates produce up to 14 000 signatures before they can stand for election made it impossible for them to participate in the democratic process. To contest in each province, the party will need to pay a registration fee of R3 000 and secure the signatures of 500 voters.

Before the amendment of the Act, parties were able to contest national elections after securing 1 000 signatures from members and paying a R5 000 registration fee.

The National Assembly passed the Electoral Amendment Bill in October last year, and President Cyril Ramaphosa signed it into law in April.

The amendment came after the constitutional court — in New Nation Movement NPC and Others v President of the Republic and Others in 2020 — declared South Africa’s party list system unconstitutional in that it did not allow individuals or independent candidates to stand for election at a national or provincial level.

Sheburi said the effect of the challenge was that ballots had already been designed and the IEC would have to plan ahead in case a second page for the ballot was required.

“For the first time the IEC is looking at a bulk paper design with more than a single one column. Because voters are not accustomed to that, we must increase our voter education and parenting education to minimise instances of spoiled ballots,” he said.

Sheburi said despite the challenges before the constitutional court, the commission was confident it would meet its deadlines, but added that should the court delay its judgment, the commission was flexible enough to adjust to a new date.

“One thing for sure is that we must be ready at the earliest opportunity to run [the election] because a general election may not be postponed beyond the 90 days after the term of the legislature has expired. If there are changes, we will adjust our plans to accommodate those changes,” he said.

Sheburi said the commission was proceeding with voter registration, but had noticed a worrying trend of the decreasing number of young people participating in the exercise. He said so far, only 29 million people had registered. Of that number, 55% were female and 45% were male.

“We are concerned and it should concern everyone of us; the under-representation of young persons. So our campaign would have a useful bias because we want to attract young people without of course alienating those of us who are already doing the voting,” he said.

Towards this end, he said the IEC had launched a voter education campaign on its website.

The commission would launch its election campaign in October to inform people about the voting system.

“The campaign will target [people] both physically and through social media to educate people about current affairs and encourage them to exercise their right to vote,” Sheburi said.