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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Civil society pushes for overhaul of the electoral system

Supporting fundamental reform to the electoral system, Bam said: 'We need to have laws on accountability to protect us.'

Amid the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) expressing concerns over a prospect of dealing with a mountain of possible administrative and logistical nightmares, should there be an immediate drastic overhaul of the electoral system in the run-up to the 2024 polls, civil society organisations on Friday pushed for change at all costs, with retired IEC chair Dr Brigalia Bam endorsing a move towards reform.

The Electoral Amendment Bill, currently under public debate and scrutiny proposes amendments to the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 after the Constitutional Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for not allowing independent candidates to contest elections to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

Addressing the electoral indaba in Johannesburg, hosted by civil society organisations – My Vote Counts, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Rivonia Circle, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and Defend our Democracy – IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo and deputy chair Janet Love appealed for certainty on the system to be adopted.

ALSO READ: Concerns raised over proposed changes to legislation governing electoral system

They cautioned about the country being ill-prepared when it came to arrangements, larger ballot papers and massive printing works not available in South Africa, with the IEC requiring a minimum of 18 months to prepare for polls.

“Certainty on the electoral system being currently proposed is not a matter of administrative convenience or luxury for the IEC.

“The imperative is that of making proper arrangements. You cannot go to a voting station without ballot papers or find an electoral officer who is not well trained.

“The message we are hearing is that 2024 is likely to be a watershed election and if it is so – something requiring extra preparations, if there are to be variations.

“Winners should celebrate in victory, without losers blaming the IEC for poor preparations,” warned Mamabolo.

Retired IEC chair Dr Brigalia Bam (left) accompanied by Unversity of Pretoria political science lecturer, Dr Sithembile Mbete, engaging media at the electoral reform indaba. Picture: Brian Sokutu

Concurred Love: “When we are looking at an election process, for people who need to see the change, that needs to be done in line with the constitution.

“The technical detail feels bureaucratic, but there are really practical consequences.

“We may not have time to fulfil constitutional obligations.

“We are not taking away from the key issues under discussion, but need certainty.”

SA ‘ready for fundamental change in electoral system’

Supporting fundamental reform to the electoral system, Bam said: “We need to have laws on accountability to protect us.

“For instance, there must be a regulation that says if I am known for involvement in corruption, I must be subjected to scrutiny before I join Parliament.

“I must also be asked whether I know the constituency I am supposed to serve, because most of us are living in suburbs.

“How do I go to Parliament to represent people who stay in townships?

“These are the things that we need to deal with.

“We need the new moral compass to sustain our leaders.

“When we talk change, it means changing some clauses in the constitution, not just one side of it.”

Inclusive Society Institute CEO Darryl Swanepoel said South Africa was “ready for fundamental change in the electoral system”.

Swanepoel: “We just need to be realistic of the timing of it.

“What the IEC is raising is problematic in getting it through in time for the 2024 elections.

“Maybe the way to deal with it, is to deal with the process in a two-step approach – firstly, getting the legislation in place for the 2024 polls, which is the current bill on the table.

“There are current things in the bill which are unconstitutional – which we need to get right.

“The second most fundamental thing is what civil society is talking about today for the 2029 elections.

“But there is also mistrust here, that if you do it one step at a time, what guarantees are there for fundamental changes to be carried through?”

ALSO READ: Why Constitutional Court ruling heralds changes to South Africa’s electoral system

Former MP Manny DA Camara said South Africa needed “change in the electoral system, because we have had a system that has led our people and our country down – as well as our democracy.

“The longer we wait, the longer we have to put up with the things that are failing us,” said  DA Camara.


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