Draft bill to deal with floor-crossing

By Chiara Carter

Draft legislation that proposes drawing the final curtain on floor-crossing in parliament, provincial legislatures and local councils has been tabled in parliament.

Floor-crossing, a window period when elected representatives get to play musical chairs and switch party allegiance or even join one-man-bands of their own making, while retaining their seats and salaries, has been highly controversial since its inception in 2002.

The spectacle of politicians, dubbed "crosstitutes", embracing new, often expedient loyalties infuriated the public, swelled the ranks of larger parties and provided a lease of life for a good few career politicians.

But the three bills introduced to parliament on Wednesday spell the end for floor-crossing. The move is in line with the ANC's Polokwane national conference decision.

The bills aim to take away the rights of MPs, MPLs and councillors to join other parties and still retain their seats. The memoranda to the bills acknowledge there is "a groundswell of resistance opposing floor crossing" and argue that the political terrain which necessitated floor crossing has changed.

The Constitution 14th Amendment Bill proposes abolishing floor crossing in the national assembly and provincial legislatures. It is accompanied by the Constitution 15th Amendment Bill which abolishes floor crossing in municipal councils.

A third bill, the General Laws Amendment Bill, proposes changes to legislation as a result of the abolition of floor crossing. It also regulates money allocated to political parties from the Represented Political Parties' Fund.

Parties that no longer qualify for funds have to return unspent money to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

This bill makes party leaders and officials liable for accounting for the funds and gives the IEC teeth to appoint auditors.

The bills have to be passed by September 2009, the start of the next floor-crossing season.

During the 15-day window periods, MPs, MPLs and councillors can defect to another party without losing their seats, provided a 10 percent threshold is met - a provision intended to accommodate mid-term shifts in political allegiances.

Floor-crossing was first suggested by the then Democratic Party, but gained support from the ANC when the New National Party wanted to quit the DA in 2001.

Floor-crossing has tended to benefit larger parties. It allowed members of the now defunct NNP to swell the ranks of the ANC as well as the DA.

Smaller parties such as the United Democratic Movement, the ID and the PAC have borne the brunt of floor-crossing in the past.

Many parties were born out of defections, notably the ID whose leader Patricia de Lille retained her seat when she quit the PAC before the last national elections.

Twelve new political parties were registered in 2007 alone.

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