Overseas ballot

2009-03-14 00:00

Handing down the very welcome Constitutional Court ruling that South Africans abroad who are registered voters can vote in the coming national election, Justice Kate O’Regan commented that the right to vote has both a symbolic and a democratic value. She quoted Justice Albie Sachs’s observation that the past denial of this right to the majority of South Africa’s people has made it especially precious. It is indeed a right which should be exercised by as many citizens and with as few limitations as possible. Given the nation’s history, it seems remarkable that it has taken an appeal to the Constitutional Court to secure a right that should never have been in question.

Some may argue that by moving away, expatriots have themselves compromised their right to vote by cutting themselves off from the mainstream of life here. This argument ignores the reality of contemporary life. People move very readily about the world for many valid reasons. With modern communications they remain well informed about events at home, and their absence by no means diminishes their interest in affairs here or their allegiance to their mother country.

There will of course be requirements that must be met. Organising a ballot in distant parts of the world is no simple task. The technical difficulties cannot, however, be allowed to interfere with this fundamental democratic right. If citizens abroad have taken the trouble to register as voters and to do what is required of them, they are fully entitled to cast that vote.

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