/ 20 October 2023

PADDY HARPER: Frivolous candidates and jokers in parliament

A scanned slip from one voting station differed wildly with what was recorded by the IEC and signed off by auditors.


By this time next week, the Electoral Commission of South Africa will have formally launched the 2024 national and provincial elections.

The IEC will provide details of the final voter registration weekend for the poll; and a breakdown of requirements to both register and make one’s X on the ballot paper in support of the 360 parties set to compete provincially and nationally.

The IEC will not be announcing an election date, but instead will provide what it describes as high-level timelines for the election, which by law has to be in the 90-day period between May and August.

The naming of the date will be left up to the head of state, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is likely to do the deed during his State of the Nation Address, which should take place in March.

The earliest the election can be held is 8 May, with the IEC leadership last year hinting that the date of 7 August might be chosen for polling day, which will see the longest ballot paper since the first democratic elections in 1994.

The IEC currently has 560 parties on its books — a figure that excludes the independent candidates who are set to be able to stand for the first time — and anticipates that 360 of the parties will contest the national and provincial poll.

Thankfully, not all of them will be on every ballot paper as a number of parties are only registered to contest in single provinces, and the IEC anticipates that the longest ballot paper will have around 48 parties.

Word has it that some of the existing parties — the Congress of the People (Cope), the National Freedom Party (NFP) and the African Independent Congress — may be making way for some of the new heads on the ballot paper.

Both Cope and the NFP face being banned from contesting the elections over their longstanding leadership disputes: all three parties have had their quarterly funding withheld for failing to balance their books.

All believe they can square things away with the IEC — and what voters they have left — between now the cut off for party registration, but the odds — and time — are against any of them making it onto the ballot for another election.

The IEC has introduced a third ballot paper for next year, to cater mainly for votes for independent candidates.

For some reason, the would-be independents appear to believe that they can do what the parties have failed to do in recent years — get people to start voting again, and to vote for them, in particular.

I don’t see how.

The last time we voted, in the local government elections in 2021, only 12.2 million South Africans out of 26.2 million who were registered actually voted.

That’s a low turnout by anybody’s standard, but even more worrying is that more than 46 million people were eligible to vote, but didn’t even bother to register.

It’s a worrying trend, but not one that appears to daunt the flurry of new parties that have been launched ahead of the elections in the hope of getting a slice of the vote — and a seat in parliament.

Or the independents, who somehow think their inability to work with anybody else — why else aren’t in the existing parties or the blizzard of new ones — will make them a more attractive choice not to vote for than an existing party.

One wonders how many independents will actually make it onto the ballot paper.

According to the IEC, as things stand, each will need 13 046 signatures from voters to stand for a seat in the national assembly, while another 6 663 will get them onto the ballot paper for a crack at the provincial legislature.

That’s a lot of schmoozing for somebody whose ego is too big to let them join an existing party — or even start their own.

The hurdles for the go-it-alones don’t end there.

The proposed deposit for independents sits at R20 000 for the national assembly — times nine, to get on the ballot in each province — and a further R15 000 for the provincial legislature.

That’s a lot of money — and a  pretty heavy barrier to participation — even for a candidate with the budget to match their ego.

The IEC says the high deposits are aimed at keeping frivolous candidates off the ballot paper.

That they may do.

They will not, however, do anything to reduce the number of jokers we presently have in our parliament, courtesy of the political parties they serve — and who will be back in numbers when parliament sits again after the elections.

Frivolous candidates indeed.