By-elections bungling bodes ill for South Africa

2016-04-05 11:37
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Pretoria - The postponement of by-elections throughout the country will negatively affect the ability of political parties to campaign, a constitutional law expert said.

Professor Marinus Wiechers said the Constitutional Court was the only organ that could give direction and clarity on the issue of elections following a ruling mandating the Independent Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) to have addresses of voters on the roll.

The IEC has since appealed to the Constitutional Court against an Electoral Court ruling postponing a by-election in Tlowke, in the North West.

It announced on Monday that it was postponing all by-elections in the country.

"One has no choice but to await the Constitutional Court judgement on this to see what can be done. The other aspect is that it is jeopardising the political parties' political campaigns because you don't know where to canvass and who to see," said Wiechers.

"It is in a sense a restriction on the free political activities of political parties which is of course guaranteed in the Constitution."

Tlokwe postponement

The IEC on Monday said it had taken the decision to postpone the by-elections in light of continued uncertainty regarding the validity of the voters' roll where addresses are not in the possession of the Electoral Commission.

Among those by-elections affected by the postponement were those scheduled for April 6.

"The Electoral Commission made the decision in the interest of free and fair elections following the recent order by the Electoral Court to postpone by-elections in Tlokwe scheduled for 24 February 2016," spokesperson Kate Bapela said in a statement.

On February 23 the IEC postponed all 12 by-elections scheduled for the following day in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West and the Western Cape.

"The Electoral Commission on Friday met with the minister for co-operative governance and traditional affairs along with the relevant provincial MECs to discuss the postponement of the by-elections," Bapela said on Monday.

The Electoral Court ruled in February that by-elections scheduled for Tlokwe had to be postponed for six weeks.

The IEC postponed those elections and several others. Independent candidates competing in Tlokwe complained in court, saying the commission had not complied with a Constitutional Court ruling to explain how the addresses of voters were placed on the voters' roll.

Tlokwe re-run

Last year, the Constitutional Court ruled that by-elections in the embattled municipality were not free and fair, and had to be re-run.

The IEC approached the Constitutional Court to appeal the Electoral Court ruling and Bapela said they would review the postponement of by-elections once the Constitutional Court had handed down judgment on the appeal.

Wiechers said he hoped the Constitutional Court would give some clarity on the issue of addresses but said he did not see it affecting the local government elections as that is fixed in the Constitution.

"We want to know from the judgment if there are some means or approximate means to find addresses of at least where people live and reside.

"I don't think it's that difficult in my opinion because even in informal settlements there are blocks where you can identify where people reside, but we will have to see if the Constitutional Court... will go deep into the matter and be very pragmatic," he said.

Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos said the postponement would not have a bearing on the local government elections.

"There won't be any impact on the local government elections because constitutionally it must happen before August 16.

"So there is no way of getting past that because the Constitution’s section 159 says the municipalities are elected for a five-year term and there must be election within 19 days after the end of the term otherwise they are dissolved," De Vos said. 

"There has to be an election by that date."

Read more on:    iec  |  constitutional court  |  pretoria  |  local elections 2016  |  politics

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