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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

‘New Electoral Act could just be a sneaky way to steal power’ from voters

Critics argue that parliamentary position of the ANC could be bolstered by the votes of people who never voted for them.

Your vote may be useless if proposed changes to the Electoral Act go ahead.

If you vote for an independent candidate and he or she dies, that seat could be given to an opposition politician you never voted for.

That is one of the major points of concern for critics of the changes to the Act.

They argue that, in extreme cases, the parliamentary position of the ANC could be bolstered by the votes of people who never voted for them.

Institute for Global Dialogue analyst Sanusha Naidu said the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill was open to manipulation and there might be a hidden agenda by the powerful to steal the seats of independent MPs who died or vacated them.

It is another avenue for manipulation to benefit the bigger parties. “It’s another way to defraud the ballot box.

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“They are digging themselves into a deeper hole because I think civil society will mobilise against this Bill. It may not be implemented anytime soon due to litigation,” Naidu said.

But the proposed changes were likely to be the subject of future litigation as civil society could well challenge them in court for being discriminatory and/or unconstitutional.

In terms of the amendment, when an independent MP dies or vacates their seat for whatever reason, no by-election would be held.

Instead, a parliamentarian from a neighbouring constituency would take the seat, even if he came from a party they did not vote for.

This was seen by some observers as an attempt by the ANC to remain in power by stealth via these takeovers.

That independent candidates would not be represented in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), like the political party sponsored MPs were currently, was another cause for concern and another likely candidate for litigation.

The independents would only be represented in the National Assembly and nine provincial legislatures under the new Act, but would be prohibited from being members of NCOP, another part of parliament.

Such arrangements would deprive the voters, who were previously represented by the independent, of their right to be represented by a member of their choice as a constituency and to have a representative in the NCOP.

This was seen as serious flaw in the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill 2022 currently before parliament.

Civil society was idling on the sidelines to fight for full representation of all people by their chosen candidates.

Policy analyst and human rights activist Dr Nkosikhulule Nyembezi said in adopting an electoral system that accommodated independent candidacy, parliament must ensure the electoral system adequately provided for the independent candidates, those who voted for independent candidates and all citizens.

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“The outcome of the amended electoral system must provide independent candidates and their supporters with a robust enjoyment of franchise rights and a fair value of the rights in a manner that guarantees not only the existence of the right, but also the equal worth of the right to both citizens who are party members and those who are not.

“The new formula to convert votes into seats must ensure a successful multistage process which produces an election that results in proportional representation of citizens … in all legislative bodies.

“As such, independent parliamentarians must also form part of provincial delegations to the NCOP,” Nyembezi said.

Naidu said South Africa’s electoral system was flawed and needed to be overhauled.

“A lot is coming up that opens more loopholes and manipulation of the system,” she said.

“You don’t need to be an expert to see what is coming down the road with this Act.”