Pretoria - Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) deputy chairperson Terry Tselane’s job to deliver a free and fair election has proven a little more demanding for this year’s local government elections than in any other prior year.
A number of opposition parties have openly challenged the commission for being biased towards the governing ANC, and at least one political party has threatened to block the elections unless the commission gives in to its demands.
In the meantime, almost all parties have submitted requests to correct their candidate lists, but the commission’s hands are tied because the law does not allow it.
The most unfortunate case is that of the United Democratic Movement, whose three councillor candidates passed away in a recent car accident but will still be on the ballot paper, says Tselane, the most experienced IEC commissioner.
But the most significant dent to the commission’s credibility came from the courts this year over the Tlokwe matter.
“For some of us we see it not only as a reflection on the commission, but also on us personally,” says Tselane, adding that it was sad the courts had found against the commission.
He says the mood at Election House in Centurion’s Riverside Office Park is predominantly one of introspection.
“There is some level of reflection happening within the commission.”
Tselane says the commission could not afford to have its integrity called into question and “it is something it must defend”.
However, he says optimistically, the responsibility on his shoulders is equally matched by the experience he gained during the struggle days as president of the Black Students’ Society at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“In those days you could be killed.”
The Constitutional Court last week found against the IEC in the matter relating to the credibility of the voters’ roll in North West’s Tlokwe local municipality.
Tselane says the commission found relief in the decision, however, because at least 12 million voters who would have been disenfranchised because of inaccurate residential addresses will still be able to vote in the upcoming municipal elections.
However, “privately”, he says, there are views that the commission could have cleaned up the roll a long time ago.
He says that in terms of this week’s ruling, voters will not be expected to produce proof of residence when they register to vote. But they must at least provide some basic residential information.
He says voters found to have registered fraudulently will open themselves up to prosecution.
Tselane emphasises that the window of opportunity for parties to correct their lists has now been closed.
“Incidentally, all political parties have approached the IEC with a request to change their lists.”
He says changing lists arbitrarily will create confusion because the commission has strict time frames to conclude its work and does not have the resources to deal with disruptions to the process.
This week, the PAC declared that the commission had a choice between registering its candidates to contest the municipal elections or see the whole process disrupted.
PAC president Luthando Mbinda said on Thursday that “there would be no elections” if the PAC was not allowed to participate.
“We believe we cannot be banned … from participating. Who do they think they are?” Mbinda said.
The Mbinda faction and another led by former PAC leader Letlapa Mphahlele have been at loggerheads for years about who the real leaders of the party are, with Alton Mphethi also claiming to be the legitimate president.
Tselane says there was an appeal in the PAC’s leadership dispute, which meant that the commission would have to take further direction from the court.
Only a court can grant permission for the commission to allow any candidate of the PAC to be allowed to contest the elections, he says.
Tselane adds that the PAC had sufficient time to give the commission the required documents from the court, but this had not happened.
“It will be unfortunate for people to make threats that the elections will not proceed in their absence.”
Tselane says the commission is due to meet the Economic Freedom Fighters this week to iron out its allegations that there was an incident of vote rigging during the 2014 national elections in Alexandra in Gauteng.
“It is not in the practice of the commission to respond to political parties in the media. We have bilateral platforms where these issues can be properly raised,” he says.
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