/ 27 February 2024

IEC says elections must go on despite complaints over party registration process

2021 Local Government Elections
The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) says the timetable set ahead of the 29 May national and provincial elections is final and has dismissed complaints from new and smaller parties about the timeline and registration requirements. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) says the timetable set ahead of the 29 May national and provincial elections is final and has dismissed complaints from new and smaller parties about the timeline and registration requirements.

The IEC announced the timetable on Monday, along with an 8 March cut-off date for independent candidates, who can contest for the first time, and new parties not in parliament to register.

In a joint open letter to the commission, the African Congress for Transformation, the African Transformation Movement, the African People’s Convention, Azania, the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo), Build One South Africa, Land Party, uMkhonto weSizwe party, Rise Mzansi, United African Transformation and the United Democratic Movement expressed concerns over the signature requirements and the election timetable.

They requested an urgent meeting within 48 hours to address concerns “that may deeply affect the integrity and inclusivity of the upcoming elections”.

The issues included the election timetable; difficulties regarding the signature requirements and the use of identity documents raised by the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia), the deadline for the registration fee and for candidate lists and voter education.

They expressed their “apprehension” over the “compressed” timeframe, saying the deadline for candidate list submission on 8 March “does not allow for adequate  participation and engagement from all stakeholders.”

The parties urged the IEC to “reconsider and extend” the deadline “to facilitate a more inclusive and informed electoral process”.

These parties also raised concerns about the difficulties faced by new political parties during the registration process, including the collection of signatures and ID numbers.

This was a “significant barrier to entry for emerging political entities” that not only impeded the principles of a mulit-party democratic system, but also disproportionately affected new and smaller parties.

They said the requirements might also be in contravention of the terms of Popia.

“We call upon the IEC to review these registration processes and ensure that they are inclusive, transparent, and compliant with relevant legislation,” they said.

At a briefing on Monday, the IEC leadership dismissed the complaints, saying the parties were well aware of the requirements of the process and that an election date had been declared.

The timetable was also “cast in stone”, the electoral body said.

IEC commissioner Nomsa Masuku said that the portal for signature capture had been open since 26 January and that the parties had “quite some time to begin the process”.

“Anyone who is preparing to contest the process should know that once an election date is proclaimed, the train starts moving,” Masuku said. 

Not all parties outside parliament are unhappy with the announcement of the timetable.

ActionSA national chairperson Michael Beaumont welcomed the decision because it would remove parties that would have had no chance of securing enough support to get a single seat in parliament.

Beaumont said it was “astonishing” that political parties could claim to be unaware of these requirements to contest elections, which had been known about for some time.

“The reality is that most of these parties cannot meet the threshold of signatures to contest an election because they exist on social media and not on the ground in the communities across South Africa,” he said.

“ActionSA welcomes the inevitable reduction of political parties and their removal from long ballot papers if they cannot even produce signatures equal to 15% of the required votes for a single seat.

“The job of fixing South Africa is important and is unlikely to be helped by political parties who cannot even handle these most basic requirements to contest an election,” he said.

The decision also affects the new parties who are involved in the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa, the pre-election coalition that hopes to topple the ANC on 29 May.

The Independent South African National Civic Organisation (iSanco), the United Independent Movement and the Spectrum National Party, all of whom were involved in the convention to launch the coalition, were all busy trying to secure signatures this week.

They joined forces with the Democratic Alliance, ActionSA, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Front Plus to form the coalition last year.

But they may be forced out of the game if they are not able to secure the requisite signatures and pay deposits in time.

iSanco president Zukile Luyenge said they had started collecting signatures around the country and still intended to contest in all provinces despite the “unfair” registration process.

“We are busy collecting signatures even though it is very difficult to do this. This is costing us a lot. This has already cost us a lot of money and resources that we don’t have. As a new party, we do not receive funding from the IEC or government like those already in parliament, so this is a further barrier to our participation in the elections,” Luyenge said.

The IEC has set 8 March as the cut-off date to secure the signatures and for all those parties and independent candidates who intend contesting the poll to meet all of the requirements for registration.

The IEC will then verify nominations and issue notices of non-compliance to those who have not met requirements on 18 March. Affected parties will have until 20 March to rectify non-compliance.

Provisional candidate lists will be published for public inspection and for potential objection by interested parties on 26 March and 27 March, with the final decision on objections to be taken on 28 March.

The UIM is, however, unfazed by the registration process and its president, Neil De Beer, welcomed it this week.

“We view this process in a positive light  because it helps us to make contact with our voters on the ground and it will help to boost our campaign,” De  Beer said.