Will IEC go with a Bam or a whisper?

2009-02-07 00:00

Americans abroad are allowed, nay encouraged, to do it. So are expatriate Brits, French and Germans. Zimbabweans aren’t allowed to do it overseas, but then neither is it tolerated much at home.

To vote in one’s national elections, even while temporarily abroad, is a right taken for granted throughout the democratic world. It stems from the principle that citizenship is an inalienable right that one holds wherever one might be, unless willingly surrendered. It is not a favour to be granted or withdrawn at the whim of government. This should be readily understood by the African National Congress. After all, during the apartheid years its supporters were banished to rural backwaters, denied passports and upon exile were stripped by administrative fiat of the vote — at least, those of them who had a vote by virtue of the right skin colour.

South Africans abroad were allowed to vote in the first democratic elections in 1994 and again in 1999, but by 2004 this right was severely restricted.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is now only obliged to grant special votes to those based overseas on official business, those who are studying, participating in an international sporting event, on holiday or on business. There is some irony in the fact that at the same time that citizens abroad were being disenfranchised by former president Thabo Mbeki, he was extending the vote to the country’s 163 000 prisoners. This makes clear the ANC’s sentiments on the comparative value of criminals and expatriates, but then again the party has more crooks than expatriates among its supporters.

One can ignore government canards about logistical problems and about the cost of collecting overseas voters. It is all about race.

The change was because of an ANC mind-set as vindictive and undemocratic as any displayed by the apartheid government. South Africans living overseas lost their votes because most of them are white, Indian and coloured, and they would largely vote for the opposition parties.

They are disenfranchised because in the ANC’s book theirs is a far greater crime than murder, rape or robbery. They are traitors. What the ANC won’t acknowledge, is that their departure is often reluctant and because of the violent acts of the enfranchised prisoners and their feral criminal brethren roaming free.

The stripping of expatriate voting rights is now being challenged in the courts by the Freedom Front Plus and the Democratic Alliance. It is unfortunate that the parties waited until so late in the day, with the general election imminent. But like the ANC, the opposition don’t give a fig for the voting herds, except at abattoir time.

The ministers of Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs have indicated that they will defend the matter. The Independent Electoral Commission, also cited as a respondent, has been coyly evasive about whether or not it is going to contest the applications.

Were it truly independent, the IEC would let the case go ahead unopposed or even support the applicants. After all, IEC chair Brigalia Bam made a commitment in 1999, when appointed, “to fight for every South African to exercise their right to vote”. Every South African, not every ANC supporter.

The Constitutional Court, affirming in the ruling on prisoners, defined the right eloquently. “[It] declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South African nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive policy. Rights may not be limited without justification and legislation dealing with the franchise must be interpreted in favour of enfranchisement rather than disenfranchisement.”

Nuff said.

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