Melanie Verwoerd

Surviving the pre-election chaos

2018-08-29 08:17
IEC voting station. (Schalk van Zuydam, AP, file)

IEC voting station. (Schalk van Zuydam, AP, file)

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It is expected that the Constitutional Court will shortly hear the application brought by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in which it will ask the court to extend the deadline a further 17 months to 29 November 2019 for having all voters’ addresses on the voters’ roll.

In their application, the IEC states that there are currently 26 212 476 voters registered on the voters’ roll. Of those, 3 409 183 (13%) have incomplete or generic addresses. A further 2 204 246, or 8%, have no addresses. That means 21% of those on the voters’ roll have incomplete or no addresses.

However, the IEC clarifies that a large percentage of those incomplete addresses still contain sufficient enough information for the voter to be placed in the correct voting district, and therefore it meets the requirement of the Electoral Act.

In addition, another significant proportion of the 21% were registered before 17 December 2003, which the court exempted from these requirements.

So, the final number is closer to 1.5 million affected voters. Although this is a far better picture than previously thought, it is still a significant number of voters – thus the IEC’s application for an extension.

Of course, if the extension is granted it will imply that the requirement for addresses will not apply to the national election next year. According to the Constitution, the next national election must be held no later than 90 days after Parliament’s five year term expires. This would mean that the election must be held – at the latest – at the beginning of August 2019. If the application for an extension is granted to the IEC, it would mean that the voters’ roll would be used as is.

This should not be a big issue. The need for addresses (in addition to an identity document) is to prevent parties from moving people to vote in areas where they do not typically reside in order to get a different outcome for the election. This can be a real issue in the case of local government elections, where a few thousand or even hundred votes can swing the balance of power.

On national and provincial level, the same argument does not apply. As long as you are a South African citizen you can vote for the national government, so your address becomes irrelevant. For the provincial government, you should vote in the province that you ordinarily reside in. However, if any party wants to gerrymander the outcome of a provincial election, they would have to move thousands of people to vote in another province. That will not go unnoticed.

So, the matter only becomes urgent for the next local government elections, which will be well beyond November 2019. 

For the country, it is far more important that the election is held as soon as possible. The time before an election is very challenging for any country, but particularly for one like ours.

Racial tensions always flare up. Politicians know that playing the race card is a very easy (albeit irresponsible) way of mobilising voters. It therefore comes as no surprise that, for example, Julius Malema is using more and more derogatory racial references in all his press conferences and speeches.

Politicians are also tempted to introduce populist policy prior to an election, despite the fact that it might be undeliverable or very bad for the country in the long run. Even where policy is needed, the political heat rises so fast in an election year that it is often very difficult to control the narrative, resulting in heightened expectations from voters. It would, for example, have been far better if the debate around land expropriation could have been held after the election when cooler heads would have prevailed.

Parliament also becomes highly ineffective in the months before an election. Most politicians want to be in their constituencies to first ensure their personal positions on the lists, and second, to canvas for votes for their political party. Thus we are already seeing much shorter sessions and much longer recess periods, despite the election still being at least nine months away.

Most importantly, it is essential for President Cyril Ramaphosa to get the election out of the way. Assuming that he gets a big enough majority for the ANC, he would then be able to silence many of his detractors in the party. He will also be able to appoint a Cabinet of his choice and get rid of some of the bad apples that he still had to accommodate after his marginal victory at Nasrec.

Ramaphosa will also be able to provide clarity on various policy issues without the fear that it will impact negatively on voters’ support for his party. This in turn would hopefully have a positive result for the economy.

As matters stand now, the IEC has indicated that they will not be ready before the end of April. This means we are still another nine months away. If the Constitutional Court does not grant the extension, it seems likely that the election will have to be postponed closer to August.

Opposition parties like the DA would encourage that, as it will grant them more time to get their houses in order. However, the longer the pre-election period, the harder it will be for the country to survive it, both politically and economically.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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:    iec  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  election  |  land
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