IEC set to give update on proposed elections postponement

Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke tabled the report into the outcome of his inquiry in Centurion on Tuesday, recommending that elections were unlikely to be free and fair if held by October and recommended they be deferred by no later than February 2022.

Whether the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa will take steps to postpone the set local government elections for October will be clear by Friday afternoon.

In a statement on Thursday, the commission said an update would be given after the consideration of the report of the Inquiry into ensuring free and fair elections during Covid-19 by Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Earlier this week, Moseneke handed over the report after probing the possibility of free and fair local elections amid raging coronavirus infections. The commission has been mulling over the 120-page report as of Tuesday morning.

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“The commission will also share its proposed actions on some of the recommendations,” the IEC said in a statement.

Key to his recommendations, Moseneke said the elections were likely not to be free and fair if held by the set October 27 date. “While the elections might pose fewer risks if held outside spaces, the events leading to this such as rallies pose risk of cluster outbreaks.”

Moseneke said after several submissions by nine health experts, political parties and the general public– one thing was clear; that the risk to human life and livelihood posed by infections on the set election time was high. The experts consulted included Professor Karim Abdool, Professor Shabir Madhi and Dr Faheed Abdullah.

“Having considered everything, we conclude that it is not reasonably possible or likely that local government elections scheduled for the month of October 2021, will be held in a free manner, as required by the constitution and related legislation,” he said. “We recommend that elections be deferred to no later than February 2022.”

He highlighted that according to the constitution, elections should be held within 90 days after the expiry of the local government elections’ five-year term. The current one ends in August.

With the proposed date outside the election window provided by the Constitution, the commission has few options if they want to postpone. One was to approach parliament for amendment of the law but with postponement being temporary this was unlikely, the second option was to approach the electoral court to approve the postponement. He said it was in the electoral court’s hands to give deferment of the election date.

Moseneke said although the constitution did not provide an option for municipal leaders to govern for more than five years, it did state that elections should be free and fair which could be considered when it was threatened.

In the submissions made by the nine health experts, Moseneke said although there were conflicting views they had a common recommendation that although infections in October would be relatively low with the number of those vaccinated also low, this could pose risks to high infections and an increasing death toll. He said the current regulations also disabled political parties from campaigning, a right given by the electoral commission laws.

With the voter registration dates postponed to July 31 and August 1 – six days after the level four lockdown expiry date – there would not be enough time for finalisation of political parties’ candidates due to regulations prohibiting large gatherings for appointment of candidates.

On Tuesday, IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini described the report as “weighty” and that it would need “weighty” considerations. Mashinini was proud that despite pressures, in just 61 days Moseneke and his team managed to complete its report.

About 40 263 709 citizens are eligible to vote according to the national population register. Of those eligible to vote, only 25 789 566 were currently registered to vote. Events leading to elections such as rallies, campaign parties, politicians visiting people’s homes, the large gatherings posed a huge threat to a spike in infections and could be deadly as most of the population were not yet vaccinated, he concluded.

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