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Inclusive Society Institute says Electoral Bill does not respond to society’s expectations for fundamental electoral reform

A MAN looks at the ballot paper before making his mark. Photo: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)

A MAN looks at the ballot paper before making his mark. Photo: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 6, 2022

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THE Inclusive Society Institute says the current Electoral Amendment Bill does not adequately respond to society’s expectations for fundamental electoral reform.

This was the position advanced by the civil society group when it made its submission to the parliamentary public hearing on the Electoral Amendment Bill this week.

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The home affairs portfolio committee is in the process of amending the Electoral Act, which was found to be unconstitutional as it does not allow independent candidates to stand for elections in Parliament and provincial legislatures.

The Constitutional Court, in its June 2020 judgment, gave Parliament 24 months to fix the defects.

The proposed bill provides for 200 seats to be filled by independent candidates and candidates from a list of political parties contesting nine regions or constituencies.

It also provides for another 200 “compensatory seats” to be filled by candidates from political parties.

As part of its provision, the bill says an independent should be registered on the voters roll for the region or province he or she will contest and must pay a prescribed fee and submit a form with a prescribed minimum number of signatures of voters.

Speaking to Independent Media, Inclusive Society Institute CEO Daryl Swanepoel said the bill was proposing a minimalist amendment to the current proportional representation model by simply providing for independents to also be accommodated on the ballot.

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“It does not suggest the introduction of a constituency model that would improve accountability and representativity through the introduction of a system that brings elected representatives closer and more accountable to the electorate,” said Swanepoel.

He argued that the minimalist approach did not respond to the broader expectation of society for fundamental electoral reform.

In its submission to Parliament, the institute came up with a hybrid model which provides for 66 multi-member constituencies (MMCs) which will have three to seven MPs elected in a constituency.

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“We say there will be 400 seats and 300 will come from MMC and the other 100 from the proportional list,” Swanepoel said.

He said their proposed MMCs would be based on the existing district and metro council boundaries.

“The institute believes that the model being proposed by itself best balances accountability and representativity with executional practicality and simplicity while adhering to the constitutional prescription of proportionality in general.”

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Swanepoel also said their proposal guaranteed multi-party representation at constituency level across the country.

“Each MMC is guaranteed to have representatives from various political parties. This eliminates the real possibility of large swathes of the country having only members from one party elected to constituencies,” he said.

“So too the need for the demarcation process to be carried out is eliminated in that existing district and metropolitan council boundaries are used as the basis for determining the MMCs.

“The system could easily be implemented in time for the 2024 election,” Swanepoel added.

He stated that the IEC could simply organise data to coincide with council borders.

Swanepoel also said the current bill would not satisfy the majority of voters that were insisting on fundamental electoral reform to respond to the sense of unaccountability and alienation of public representatives from the voter that the existing system is perceived to have resulted in.

“The system of MMC offers the best way forward, without compromising on broader society’s aspiration for greater accountability from their public representatives.”

He stated that they supported the request to be made by Parliament to the Constitutional Court to request extension to finalise the process to amend the Electoral Act provided that proper public participation was catered for.

“If there is no intention to really take on board public sentiment, then we are not in favour of an extension.”

He was optimistic that the court would grant the national legislature a short extension to provide for the public participation process.

Asked about the payment of a prescribed deposit in order to contest elections, Swanepoel said they did not support a financial fee to participate in the elections.

“We also say it can’t be a free for all and not anybody likes to put a name forward and register because there are costs involved and logistical implications involved.

“If you allow a total free for all, you could have hundreds of people on the ballot paper.”

He, however, said they backed the notion that the candidates should obtain signatures of voters and it should be 1% of registered voters in their constituencies to show their support.

“You need to show that you have some sort of support,” he said.

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Political Bureau

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