All’s fair in love, war and politics - or is it?
As allegations grow of food parcels and other gifts for voters, a DA MP says the ruling party should not advertise, writes Judith February.
Cape Town - Recently, several allegations have been made against the ANC for abusing state resources during its electoral campaign. DA leader Helen Zille has accused the ANC of using its position as the governing party to boost its majority at the polls. A number of instances have been reported of cash being handed out to voters by the president himself. Media reports reveal that the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) distributed food parcels at a recent ANC rally.
T-shirts have been handed out during government ministers’ walkabouts. It also seems as if government advertising has been on the rise explaining the ANC government’s “good story to tell” and even stretching as far as ubiquitous advertisements for the SANDF.
At a seminar on Money and Politics, DA MP Lance Greyling advocated a ban on government advertising during election campaign periods to minimise the opportunity for the governing party to use the resources of state as part of its campaign for votes. The DA has referred the abuse of state resources to the public protector for investigation and has also instituted action in the Cape High Court, sitting as the Electoral Court, against abuses by Sassa.
We witnessed similar accusations being levelled by opposition parties against the ANC in the run-up to the 2009 general election. Then, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) alleged that the ANC contravened the electoral code of conduct by removing posters of opposition parties.
Media reports indicated that some ANC campaigners threatened owners of RDP houses that they would lose their property if they failed to cast their votes in support of the ruling party. However, the ANC is not the only political party alleged to have breached the electoral code of conduct prior to the 2009 election.
The Freedom Front Plus filed criminal charges against the DA for circulating SMSes which urged people not the vote for them.
Before the elections, parties sign up to the electoral code of conduct (which is provided for in Schedule 2 of the Electoral Act 73 of 1998), which requires that they adhere to certain standards of behaviour during the campaigning period.
The code is aimed at producing a political context conducive to free and fair elections; fostering acceptance of democratic political activity; encouraging free political campaigning and stimulating open public debate on pertinent social, economic and political issues affecting the broader society.
It describes “prohibited conduct” as making statements which in any way incite violence or result in the persecution of any candidates or voters. The code restrains political parties or individual candidates from disseminating spurious or vilifying allegations directed at representatives of political parties and places an embargo on individuals or groups in respect of passing off symbols, colours or acronyms of other registered political parties as their own.
Furthermore, the code stipulates that no person or political party may offer any inducement or reward that might influence political party identification or allegiance nor infringe on the freedom of association of individuals participating in public meetings or political events.
It further outlaws the use of or display of armaments during political meetings, demonstrations, rallies or public political events and safeguards people’s right of access to other people for the purposes of voter education, soliciting support for any political party or candidate, accumulating funds and so on.
The code disallows any person or party from interfering with the electoral campaign and marketing strategies of other parties, by prohibiting people from vandalising or removing the banners, posters, advertisements or any other materials used by political parties or candidates. Ultimately, it forbids any political party or person from misusing a position of power or influence to alter the regulation or end-result of an election.
Any political party or person found to be in breach of the electoral code of conduct might be subjected to penalties and fines determined by the Electoral Court to ensure that all parties and individuals contesting the elections comply with the code.
Depending on the severity of the violation, the court reserves the right to issue a formal warning or fine up to R200 000 or to bar any political party or individual from making use of public media to promote its political objectives, distributing electoral adverts and pamphlets amongst others.
It is clear that the electoral code of conduct fulfils a pivotal role during election time as it provides clear guidance as to the behaviour of all the key actors participating in the electoral processes which is instrumental in yielding credible, free and fair elections and ensuring a public commitment to fair play from all parties.
So, the question really remains whether what the ANC is doing falls under the definition of “prohibited conduct” so as to have a direct bearing or influence on the election result or whether it is simply the mixture between a crass form of vote-buying and utilising the benefits of incumbency as any political party would do?
The DA has not made any formal complaint yet except via the media so there has been no independent adjudication of the allegations. Governing parties typically utilise their dominant position to garner votes. Yet one could very well argue that handing out cash is the crudest form of such campaigning. Yet, often “on the stump” these things happen so quickly and given the pace of campaigns in South Africa, are soon forgotten.
The KwaZulu-Natal MEC Meshack Radebe displayed a more insidious form of abuse when he said that social grants are only for “ANC supporters”. The people who heard these words hopefully also heard that Radebe was wrong and that it was their constitutional right to receive a grant no matter whom they voted for.
* Judith February is executive director of the Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery Research programme at the Human Sciences Research Council.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.