Guest Column

Are election candidates fit to hold office?

2019-03-19 05:00
The National Assembly is seen. (Esa Alexander, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

The National Assembly is seen. (Esa Alexander, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

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Respect for Parliament is heavily dependent on the integrity of its membership. We therefor need MPs who are fully committed to uphold the law and the Constitution, writes Lawson Naidoo.

Considerable concern has been expressed regarding the composition of the party electoral lists that have been submitted to the Electoral Commission (IEC) for the forthcoming national and provincial elections.

Included on the lists from the ANC, DA and EFF are several people who have been directly implicated in state capture and serious maladministration, those against whom adverse findings have been made by the courts, and those accused of sexual offences and racist utterances.

The recent meeting of the Casac Council reflected on this issue in the context of fitness to hold public office, noting that our system defers this assessment to political parties. Voters are presented with a fait accompli by political parties – we vote for parties and not individual candidates.

READ: ANC elders' open letter to corrupt comrades - 'Remove yourself from list'

While the Constitution only specifically excludes certain categories of persons from being eligible for membership of Parliament, it is regrettable that parties have opted to include candidates whose profile will contribute towards undermining the respect and legitimacy of this key institution in our democracy.

The Constitution inter alia prohibits unrehabilitated insolvents, persons of unsound mind, and those convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment without the option of a fine from serving as members of national and provincial legislatures. Anyone else is eligible to stand for public office.

Parties have their own internal rules and processes to determine their electoral lists which generally appear to be designed to obscure the rationale. The governing party, the ANC has adopted resolutions seeking to set out criteria for appointment to office within the party, and by implication to public office. A 2012 resolution at its national conference provided that:

"… urgent steps should be taken to protect the image of the organisation and enhance its standing in society by ensuring, among others, that urgent action is taken to deal with public officials, leaders and members of the ANC who face damaging allegations of improper conduct. In addition, measures should be put in place to prevent abuse of power or office for private gain or factional interests. The ANC can no longer allow prolonged processes that damage its integrity."

At its Nasrec conference in 2017 the ANC resolved to "publicly disassociate ourselves from anyone, whether business donor, supporter or member, accused of corruption or reported to be involved in corruption". Extensive evidence has been led at the state capture commission of inquiry placing several members of the ANC at the epicentre of this looting of public resources but this has been ignored in the compilation of lists.

Now the party seeks to hide behind the maxim of "innocent until proven guilty" to justify the inclusion of those accused of wrongdoing in its election lists when its own positions demand otherwise.

Given that the majority of 18 to 29-year-old South Africans have not bothered to register to vote – IEC figures indicate that only 49% in this age group have registered – it is surely incumbent on parties to encourage participation by fielding candidates that engender respect and thereby promote engagement in the political processes.

What kind of role-models do these dubious candidates exemplify to the youth? Their behaviour runs counter to the values and principles espoused in our Constitution, and yet, if elected, they will swear allegiance to that founding document of our democracy. These levels of apathy among young people do not augur well for our democratic future, and political parties are doing little to alter this trend.

The reputation of Parliament itself leaves much to be desired, having been found by the courts in recent years to have failed to uphold its constitutional mandate of holding the executive to account. Parliament became a rubber-stamp for the repeated constitutional violations committed by the former president and members of his national executive. Indeed, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has signalled that the state capture inquiry should probe the role of this institution in facilitating state capture.

Parliament had belatedly launched probes into aspects of state capture at some state-owned companies, long after the horses had bolted. Had it acted when first aware of it, things might have turned out very differently.

Respect for Parliament is heavily dependent on the integrity and standing of its membership to execute its constitutional mandate to "represent the people and to ensure government by the people". This can only be done by MPs who are fully committed to uphold the law and the Constitution.

The closed party list system entrenches the power of party bosses to determine lists – as well as how those elected then exercise power – to the exclusion of the electorate. A review of the electoral system is long overdue to facilitate greater accountability from elected representatives and to fulfil the constitutional promise of a participatory democracy.

As ordinary citizens we must grasp power out of the grubby clutches of party bosses. This is an issue we must grapple with as soon as these elections are over.

- Lawson Naidoo is the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac).

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    parliament  |  constitution  |  elections 2019
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