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Delays with Electoral Amendment Bill a threat to IEC’s mandate

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Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA) – OneSA member Given Mogane speaking during the public hearing on the Electoral Amendment Bill held in Hammanskraal.

By Lethlogonolo Letshele

THE Constitutional Court has given an order granting Parliament a further extension to finalise its process to pass and adopt the Electoral Amendment Bill. This is the second extension after Parliament missed its initial deadline of June 10 last year.

Parliament was then given an extension, until December 10, to finalise the process, which it again missed.

The Constitutional Court has now given Parliament until February 28.

The Electoral Amendment Bill amends the electoral laws to allow independent candidates to contest elections in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures. This follows the Constitutional Court declaring the Electoral Act unconstitutional because it does not allow independent candidates to contest at provincial and national levels.

Parliament was ordered to remedy the defect within 24 months. More than 30 months into the process of fixing the legislation, Parliament is running out of time to amend the Electoral Act and so too will the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) to implement the changes.

While the IEC has said the extension would not necessarily hamper its preparations for the 2024 national and provincial elections, any further delays would be a threat to its preparation.

The IEC needs time to draw up an election timetable, develop systems to include independent candidates and conduct public and voter education on the new electoral system. Delays will disrupt the constrained preparation process and could compromise the credibility of the elections.

There are flaws in the bill that, if adopted without being remedied, would probably not pass constitutional muster. It risks legal action and further delays.

On the other hand, any major changes to the bill, which will probably be implemented because the bill is flawed, might also compromise the IEC’s planning process. There are no easy solutions for the IEC.

Therefore, the IEC’s preparation is solely based on the premise that there are no more major changes to the bill leading up to its finalisation. It is also probably based on the assumption that major flaws are disregarded for the purpose of the bill being finalised.

This is a risk to the integrity of the elections and puts the Constitutional Court in a position where it must decide whether to suspend major changes to the bill to allow the IEC enough time to prepare for the elections. This is dangerous and could plunge South Africa into a constitutional crisis.

The IEC initially advised that it would need at least 18 months for preparations on a finalised electoral system, which makes the deadline of the previous extension the “hardline” in terms of careful planning for 2024. This is because the bill has major implications on the election planning process, especially concerning the development of new election results, seat allocation applications and a new candidate nomination system.

It also has implications for the configuration of the ballot paper; the proposed system will increase the number of ballots. Furthermore, the bill will have implications on public and voter education because any new electoral system will require extensive public education.

Any preparation happening post the deadline of the first extension will potentially jeopardise the integrity of the elections.

There are major implications for the IEC implementing the bill, from changing systems to embarking on voter and public education.

Moreover, the IEC is facing budget cuts of almost R800 million (before taking inflation into account) over the next three years. The specific areas that will be impacted by the budget cuts include the cancellation of the second weekend for voter registration for the 2024 national elections.

Therefore, voter education and outreach will not be adequately funded and staff expansion cannot happen.

In addition, the IEC budget cuts will impact the implementation of the Electoral Amendment Act and the ability of the IEC to fulfil its mandate.

The IEC must ensure that the elections are credible. It is mandated by the Constitution to manage free and fair elections and to safeguard our democracy.

Such delays will undermine the IEC’s ability to carry out its mandate and is a threat to our democracy. Further delays are a long-term threat to efforts to renew our electoral system and sustain our democracy.