‘Ignored’ EFF tells court election deposit was unforeseeable

2014-03-06 09:49

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Continuing to force new political parties to fork out massive deposits to register for elections would be tantamount to depriving millions of poor South Africans of the right to vote for the party of their choice, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) lawyer Dumisa Ntsebeza has told the North Gauteng High Court.

Ntsebeza represented the EFF, which had launched an urgent application yesterday because it deems sections of the Electoral Act “unconstitutional”.

The unprecedented legal action against sections 27(2)(e) and 27(3)(a) of the Electoral Act comes less than three months before South Africa’s fifth democratic general elections on May 7.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is the only state body opposing the application after the presidency and Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, both cited as respondents, had filed notices to “abide” by the outcome of the application.

Proceedings were briefly interrupted late afternoon when an EFF supporter, who had joined hundreds of EFF supporters and onlookers who had descended on the Palace of Justice steps, died after he accidentally tripped on a steel palisade fence and hit his head.

The jovial mood quickly turned gloomy when EFF supporters refused to allow the media to record visuals of the dead man.

Julius Malema, who sat with Advocate Dali Mpofu and their legal team, came out, addressed the supporters and expressed condolences to the man’s family.

The EFF has promised to help bury the man, whose name will be released at a later stage.

Earlier in the day, Ntsebeza had argued that the power of the IEC to declare and determine the amount of deposits to be paid by political parties to contest the elections was an “unregulated discretionary power”, which should be deemed unconstitutional.

He argued that it was unconstitutional to place financial barriers on a population that was mostly poor.

“The court must ask itself whether this provision [of deposits] is enfranchising or disenfranchising and the answer is clear,” said Ntsebeza, arguing that many voters, especially EFF supporters, are poor, unemployed and unemployable.

But Judge Joseph Raulinga questioned why the court should deem the matter urgent, as the EFF had had ample time to contest the regulations.

Ntsebeza said the EFF had just acquired offices in Braamfontein, Joburg, and the cost of the deposits were “unforeseeable” when the party was established a few months ago.

“We realised that the deposit was a barrier well before the elections deadline. But we’re here on an emergency basis because we were ignored. By the time the applicant [the EFF] was born, the IEC had determined deposit [amounts],” said Ntsebeza.

The EFF is seeking interim relief to have all political parties who are “prejudiced” by the regulations to “be temporarily exempted from paying the prescribed participation deposits”.

The party wants the court to rule that “new-entrant parties”, which do not receive parliamentary party funding, must pay a nominal deposit compared with the “old boys’ club” of established parties.

But Marumo Moerane, acting for the IEC, argued that the IEC, and not the courts, was the only statutory body empowered to manage elections of national, provincial and municipal legislative bodies in accordance with national legislation.

Moerane said the regulations were crafted to ensure elections were free and fair, and also had the power to “declare the results of those elections within a period that must be prescribed by national legislation and that is as short as reasonably possible”.

“It is not for the applicant or even the courts to second-guess the regulations of the IEC. The deposits are not irrational, there’s no discrimination. These regulations are about the treatment of political parties, not individuals. The EFF’s case has absolutely no merit,” said Moerane.

Judgment was reserved.

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