IEC not planning for rumoured early elections, on track for 2019

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) says it is not preparing for early elections, but that it is on track to hold elections in mid-2019 when the current term ends.

The IEC appeared before Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on Tuesday to present its readiness for the elections next year, constitutionally due to be called between May 8 and August 7.

Rumours of early elections started after an ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting that debated the possibility of bringing them forward.

The current term ends at midnight on May 8. The IEC has a 90-day window thereafter to hold elections, based on a date decided by the president.

IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini told journalists after the meeting that they would be meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday this week.

The IEC said it was, under "normal, routine" conditions, required by the law to update the president on its readiness, and not to discuss the possibility of early elections.

"I don't know where the early elections question comes from," Mashinini said.

"We have a Constitution, and it is clear, as anybody can read: The term is a five-year-term and starts from the day a new government is elected.

"That term ends on May 8, 2019, and one minute past midnight, we as a commission, from a planning point of view, must be able to hold an election."

Mashinini said Ramaphosa had not raised the issue of a potential early elections in their preliminary meetings with him. He declined to speculate on whether the IEC would be ready if early elections were called. 

"It would be irresponsible of me to raise any sensational speculation on this critical issue," he said. 

"We are working on the basis of the [normal] timetable."

490 000 new voters registered in March

The IEC informed the committee that 2.7 million people had registered or reregistered during the most recent registration weekend in March.

Of those, 490 000 were citizens who had registered for the first time.

A further 885 000 reregistered under a new voting district, while the remaining 1.3 million were reregistering within their same voting district.

MPs also heard that the IEC still had to register 2.2 million (8%) voters who had no recorded home addresses. A further 3.4 million (13%) had incomplete or generic addresses.

This after the Constitutional Court ordered it, in 2016, to place the addresses of those voters who had no recorded addresses onto their database by June 2018.

ConCourt asked for extension to voters' roll matter

The commission asked the Constitutional Court last week for a 17-month extension to capture the details of the remaining voters.

Mashinini said the extension would not affect the IEC's ability to hold an election in the desired time frame, and it would probably reach the 80% target before the next elections.

The commission had made great strides since March 2016 in capturing outstanding addresses, MPs heard.

Since March 2016, the number of recorded addresses had risen from 8.4 million voters (34%) to 18.8 million (72%), as at May 8 this year. This would rise by another 6% before the deadline.

The remaining 22% would be the most challenging to obtain, with many having generic or incomplete addresses, or no addresses at all in some rural areas.

Mashinini said the IEC would wait for the court's determination before further commenting on that process.

Rising violence, protests among risks to election

In September this year, new voter registration devices would be delivered. In January 2019, all required equipment and materials would be delivered to municipalities.

In February 2019, the final voter registration weekend is due to take place.

Ramaphosa, if he does not call for an early election before then, will be expected to announce the poll date in February/March next year.

In March and April, final candidate nominations will take place before the election is held.

Some of the obstacles to the holding of elections were increasing political violence – focused mainly in KwaZulu-Natal – delays in demarcation disputes, and rising protest action.

There was also an increasing risk of cyber threats globally and a tendency to take election outcomes to court.

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