Elections set for April 22

2009-02-10 00:00

Cape Town — President Kgalama Motlanthe yesterday ended weeks of national suspense when he announced that South Africans will go to the polls on April 22.

Motlanthe used his reply to the debate on his state-of-the-nation address to announce the date of the country’s fourth democratic election, but stressed that the proclamation of this date in the Government Gazette will be made later.

The National Assembly erupted with applause as Motlanthe made the much-anticipated announcement, which was decided through consultation with the Independent Electoral Commission and the nine provincial premiers.

The country still awaits the decision — expected in the next two weeks — of the Constitutional Court as to whether all South African citizens living abroad can appply to vote in the election through a special vote.

This week, the Pretoria High Court ruled that they can, but the Constitutional Court has the final say.

In terms of electoral rules, once the date is proclaimed, nobody can register to vote.

The Freedom Front Plus filed papers in the Pretoria High Court last month challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions in the Electoral Act.

Other parties, including the Democratic Alliance and the civil rights initiative AfriForum, are also lobbying strongly on the issue.

The Freedom Front Plus represented Willem Richter, a South African working in Britain, who claims that certain provisions of the Electoral Act discriminate unfairly against ordinary SA citizens living and working abroad.

“With this coming election, the maturation of our democracy receives yet another shot in the arm,” Motlanthe told Parliament.

He called on all South Africans to conduct themselves in a manner “consistent with our democratic ethos”.

“Let us expand the floor for political tolerance, ensuring that in whatever we do, we guarantee a climate of freedom of assembly, expression and association.

“The right of all political parties to campaign in a politically free atmosphere must be respected at all times.’

The president used his address to rebut the claims of one Member of Parliament that the Constitution has been betrayed and the people of South Africa have grown disillusioned.

“I want to assure all of us here, and all South Africans out there, that the Constitution of our republic is not under any form of threat from any quarter.

"Since 1994 we have had regular, successful, democratic general elections, all of them free and fair. National and provincial elections this year will further deepen the democratic culture in our nation. There is therefore no validity to the concerns about the putative peril of our Constitution.”

The Freedom Front Plus praised Motlanthe for agreeing not to announce the proclamation date before constitutional clarity on the “expat” vote was reached.

 

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