Election monitoring body calls for responsible conduct in the election year
A leading election monitoring group has voiced concern that the recent "hardening of attitudes" among South Africans could have an impact on the national elections.
The Electoral Code of Conduct Observer Commission (Eccoc) has also warned that the flouting of the Covid-19 regulations in the recent municipal by-elections did not augur well as this year's elections were expected to be much bigger.
The commission comprises religious and civil society leaders and is co-chaired by Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, and Roman Catholic Archbishop Stephen Brislin monitors national, provincial and local government elections in the Cape metropolitan area.
“We are concerned that there appears to be a hardening of attitudes among South Africans, and almost a move towards militarism and extremism among supporters of the left and the right, which could impact on future elections.
“There appears to be a polarisation and almost a romanisation of violence,” the Commission said.
Although no date has been set yet for the municipal elections, they are expected to be held later in the year, between August and November.
Commission spokesperson Lionel Louw appealed to political and community leaders to be cautious of how they conduct themselves in the lead-up to the elections. He said leaders should acknowledge the potential of tension that could break out at any point and take steps towards minimising the risk.
“Local government elections are closer home and over the past years we have seen fierce competition for positions. The period is also characterised by tensions not only within communities, but also within and among political parties. We would like to appeal to leaders to act responsibly,” said Louw.
Political analyst at UWC, Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, said there was “a lot at stake” in this year's municipal elections and agreed with the commission's concerns.
“There are new political parties that will participate for the first time and old ones that are trying to resuscitate themselves. We can expect fierce activity, and these elections will determine the outcome of the national elections in 2024,” said Mngomezulu.
Another analyst, Daniel Silke, also emphasized the need for political leaders to conduct themselves in a "mature" manner and abide by the Electoral Code of Conduct.
Silke said there would be robust activities ahead of the elections and warned that if these were not handled in a responsible manner, they could descend into chaos.
But he said the significance of the elections was on how the Covid-19 vaccine would be rolled out. “If the ANC manages this well, it could play in their favour, and if it does not it will be taken to task. The elections will be dominated by Covid-19 and the way the government responds to it,” added Silke.
Eccoc will over the next few months use its networks to engage as many religious leaders and their followers as possible in discussions about how to promote a spirit of tolerance ahead of the polls.
Louw said the organisation would also host a series of seminars online to discuss the political climate leading up to the vote.