Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

‘No pre-judging was made’ – IEC tells ConCourt Janet Love’s remarks not specific to Zuma

The IEC is embroiled in a legal battle with the MK party over Zuma's candidacy.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has defended the remarks made by commissioner Janet Love relating to former president Jacob Zuma’s candidacy.

The IEC is embroiled in a legal battle with the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party over Zuma’s candidacy before the Constitutional Court (ConCourt).

The commission has appealed the Electoral Court’s judgment, which concluded that Zuma would remain on the parliamentary list of the MK party.

The 9 April ruling set aside the IEC’s decision to uphold an objection against the former president’s participation in this year’s national and provincial elections.

IEC commissioner’s remarks under scrutiny

While the judgment regarding the IEC’s leave to appeal application was reserved by the ConCourt on Friday, the apex court has sought further clarity on alleged biased comments made by Love.

During a media briefing in January, Love stated that the Constitution disqualified any candidate with a criminal record from serving in the National Assembly in a response to a question about Zuma’s eligibility.

“We are obliged as the commission to abide by the laws of this country and our Constitution itself prescribes who is possible to be eligible as a candidate on the lists of any political party.

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“That excludes anybody who has been given a sentence that was not the subject of any deferral and in that sense, it is not ourselves, but the laws of the country that would stand as an impediment for that candidacy,” Love said at the time.

According to the MK party, Love’s remarks were “premature and unwarranted” because the IEC had not yet opened the window period for the public to lodge objections regarding the candidates’ lists submitted by political parties.

The party, which called for Love’s resignation in April, claimed that the commissioner should have recused herself from participating in the IEC’s decision regarding Zuma’s eligibility.

No prejudgment on Zuma, says IEC

The IEC has since submitted its written responses to the ConCourt after the litigants were asked to make submissions about Love’s alleged bias by 5pm on Tuesday.

In their papers, the commission argued that Love’s comments were not specific to Zuma.

The IEC dismissed the suggestion that the commissioner prejudged the former president, focusing on the phrase saying “it is not ourselves, but the laws of the country that would stand as an impediment for that candidacy”.

“This is the clearest indication that no pre-judging was made,” the commission said.

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“The reasonable, objective and informed person would not interpret the phrase ‘that candidacy’ as a reference to Mr Zuma.

“Instead, the reasonable, objective and informed person would interpret it in line with its grammatical meaning: ‘that candidacy’ refers to the generic ‘anybody’ in the very first line of Ms Love’s response,” the IEC argued.

The commission stressed that it was bound by the law and the Constitution in terms of who was eligible to run for political office.

General statement of law

The IEC further pointed out that there would be “no reasonable basis” for Love to anticipate any objections to Zuma’s eligibility.

“When she made the statement on 25 January 2024, the MK party had not published its list for candidates.

“The MK party submitted its list to the Electoral Commission on 8 March 2024. The list was then made available for public inspection and objection on 26 and 27 March 2024.”

READ MORE: ConCourt dismisses Zuma’s ‘non-frivolous’ recusal application

It added that Love could not anticipate litigation would count against her.

“She was expressing her understanding of the legal position, rather than anticipating a potential legal challenge.

“Had she anticipated that the matter might end up in court, it is arguable that she would simply have not answered the question.

“But the fact that she answered in general terms, rather than address the question with specific reference to Mr Zuma proves that she acted honestly and without malice.

“She was not pre-judging Mr Zuma’s candidacy; she was making a general statement of the law.”