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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Amend poll Bill to be fairer, say civil groups

Organs of civil society propose amendments to advance multiparty democracy.

Organs of civil society have proposed far-reaching amendments to the Electoral Matters Amendment (EMA) Bill to advance multiparty democracy in the country.

Among many to support the Bill – seeking to put independent candidates onto the same footing as political parties – Mawethu Mosery, Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) deputy chief electoral officer, said the draft law was necessary to govern party funding-related matters, which included compliance by independent candidates.

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“For the IEC, there will be no major impact, except a clarification on the issuing of ballot papers. “It will not affect the roll-out of the election progress,” said Mosery.

In its submission to the parliamentary portfolio committee on home affairs, the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) proposed:

• The extension of the mandate of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office-bearers, to include provisions contemplated by Section 26 of the EMA Bill;

• Amendments to Section 26 to include the minister of finance as a party to be consulted by the president when making regulations for matters contemplated in Section 8(2) and (5) of the Political Party Funding Act of 2018; and

• The president to consider objectively measurable norms and standards, with regard to the public funding of political parties in other peer democratic jurisdictions – ensuring that South Africa “does not become an outlier”.

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“Political parties need to be properly resourced and equipped to carry out their constitutional mandate,” said ISI CEO Daryl Swanepoel.

“Ill-equipped and under-resourced political office-bearers will result in the semblance of democracy, while allowing for a well-resourced executive to act with impunity – inherently biased in favour of parties in government.

“On public funding of parties, our studies have shown that where jurisdictions have high disclosure regimes, public funding is far more generous than in those that don’t have such regimes.

“Recent research by the institute suggests that current funding levels are not adequate,” said Swanepoel.

“While the president needs to consider a number of factors in determining the adjustments, there is a very real danger of falling prey to subjective decisions.

“It unquestionably constitutes a conflict of interest. “If not eliminated from the Bill, conflict of interest will open the prospects for a legal challenge,” said Swanepoel.

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The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) said the Bill made “some consequential amendments”.

“Following the enactment of the Electoral Amendment Act 1 of 2023, ahead of the elections, some of the proposed amendments are far-reaching.

“It should be left for the next parliament to deal with and to allow for meaningful public participation,” Casac said.

“Some of the proposed amendments are cosmetic and ineffectual, without any enforcement mechanisms,” said Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo and senior researcher Dan Mafora.

Casac proposed the amending of the definition of Multitarty Democracy Fund Section (1) of the Political Party Funding Act 6 of 2018 and changing the fund’s name to “Multi-Party and Independents Democracy Fund”.

“Multiparty democracy is a founding value of the republic in terms of Section 1(d) of the constitution.

“It envisages a system of government where the space for democratic contestation is not closed to anyone.

“The purpose of the fund is to advance multiparty democracy by pooling funds from private sources and disbursing it to represented political parties and independents,” said Casac.

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