Cape Times – With exactly two months before South Africans take to the polls in the national elections on May 8, nonpartisan movement the New National Movement (NNM) and several others have approached the high court for an order declaring the Electoral Act unconstitutional and invalid.
The movement wants judicial intervention so the current electoral system be adopted to enable South Africans to both vote for, and stand as, independent candidates.
Currently, South Africa operates on a proportional representation voting system, meaning voters vote for a political party, not individuals.
A political party gets a share of seats in Parliament in direct proportion to the number of votes it got in the elections, and each party decides on members to fill the seats it has won.
Before Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai yesterday, the NNM argued that the voting system was inconsistent with the constitution and did not “give effect to the will of the people”.
Advocate Alan Nelson argued that the change would improve the citizens’ quality of life .
“It compels citizens into political parties as an essential prerequisite to eligibility for election to public office at both provincial and national levels of government after being placed on party lists,” Nelson argued.
The Presidency, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) and the speaker of the National Assembly are among five respondents in the matter.
Judge Desai said political parties also needed to be afforded an opportunity to choose to make representations.
He postponed the matter until March 27 and ordered Nelson to approach political parties to determine whether they wanted to be included in the proceedings.
“Significant players need to be given an opportunity to choose to participate.
"The absence of non-joinder will impact proceedings,” Judge Desai said.
In the IEC’s heads of argument, advocate Steven Budlender argued that when the application was originally launched, the applicants sought an order compelling Parliament to change the electoral system in time for the national and provincial elections.
“This was emphatically demonstrated by the commission’s answering affidavit to be impossible.
"It was explained and demonstrated that seeking to apply this new regime to the imminent 2019 elections would result in a constitutional crisis.
"This is because any declaration of invalidity would have to be followed by full confirmation proceedings in the Constitutional Court; a full legislative and regulation-making process via Parliament and the relevant functionaries; thereafter, a demarcation process involving drawing up (for the first time) constituencies for use in national and provincial elections; and only thereafter, the commission engaging in preparation for the 2019 elections, which requires a minimum period of between 72 days and 86 days,” the papers state.