Unbiased IEC earns a vote of confidence

2011-01-15 12:42

This week the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced its launch of the municipal elections campaign.

It was a jazzy, upbeat morning where a violinist, clad in little more than flashing lights and her instrument, nestled next to superb musicians and ­politicians of every stripe.

The event was nonpartisan and confident – the declaration of elections here holds none of the anxiety that the run-up to voting in many parts of our continent still does.

The presidential stalemate in Ivory Coast and the repercussions of the stolen election in Zimbabwe are still dark spots on a continent striving, finally, into its future.

There are many reasons that Africa does not always do elections well, and one of them is that the bodies running elections do not have the confidence of the citizenry and have not established themselves as genuinely independent.

South Africa owes a massive debt of gratitude to the IEC, which has laboured hard to establish our confidence so that while we are tjatjarag and contrarian about most things, the veracity of our electoral outcomes are never contested, neither has the process of voting ever descended into chaos and violence.

In launching the election campaign this week, the electoral commission’s chairperson, Brigalia Bam, said the imperative on our continent now was to move from noting the quantity of elections to focusing on quality.

What are the elements of the IEC’s success?

Most significantly, the IEC is nonpartisan in spirit and practise.

It has left behind cadre deployment as the outdated policy it is and reveals that the once necessary system of infusing politically knowledgeable and connected individuals into the key levers of state is no longer necessary.

Fifty electoral agents were given their marching orders by the IEC after investigations found that they were politically active and could harm the institution’s neutrality.

Secondly, it has hired technocrats of a high calibre and has provided a working atmosphere conducive to keeping them.

Most of the key individuals, from Bam to the chief executive, Pansy Tlakula, and her deputies have been with the IEC for a long time.

This secures institutional memory, reducing the instability that the continual chopping and changing of staff has infused into public institutions like the SABC.

And, finally, it is run by two women!

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