IEC faces challenge of holding free and fair elections without endangering voters’ health
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The long debate on whether South Africa is ready to hold the local government elections this year is one that should be finalised as soon as possible.
The announcement by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) that it has appointed retired Constitutional Court Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke to review whether it is permissible for the electoral body to run the polls in October is one that is long overdue.
According to the IEC, Moseneke will undertake an urgent appraisal of all the relevant legal, socio-political, health, practical and other considerations and submit a report to the commission in July. The report will make recommendations of additional measures to further fortify the integrity and safety of the elections.
It will be interesting to see if Moseneke’s recommendations circumvent some of the legislation contained in the Constitution. For instance, it appears that currently there are no provisions made in the Constitution for the postponement of elections.
One thing that the Constitution does impress upon is that after the president has made a proclamation, local government elections have to take place within a certain time frame.
Chapter 7 of the Constitution also maintains that the term of a municipal council may be no more than five years, as determined by national legislation. So we need to look forward and find a solution to the current and pressing challenge that we face.
The challenge at hand is how to hold free and fair elections without compromising the health and safety of all South Africans, particularly when Covid-19 infections continue to rise.
In April, there were concerns that voting in India would become a superspreader event. In fact, questions were being asked if election rallies helped spread the virus. Soon after that, the Covid-19 infections in the region quadrupled. We don’t need to find ourselves in the same quagmire.
What would now be fitting is for President Cyril Ramaphosa to hold another family meeting soon and outline what the government’s plan is to fix the shambolic vaccine roll-out programme, and what the plans are by the National Command Council over the next few weeks to help reduce the infection rate.