OPINION | Mudzuli Rakhivhane: Why the ANC's approach to electoral reform is nothing more than gatekeeping

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ANC supporters at a voting station in Meadowlands.
ANC supporters at a voting station in Meadowlands.
Gallo Images/Papi Morake

The measures the ANC propose are clearly intended for the purposes of gatekeeping and creating significant barriers to new players, writes One South Africa Movement's Mudzuli Rakhivhane

The ANC issued a statement commenting on the public hearings, and the statement clearly demonstrated the problems of having the player be the referee in the same match they are playing in. 

What matters in a representative democracy is accountability of representatives and the quality of representation. Effectively, we all want to be able to hold our elected officials to task for failures in delivery and to reward those who have been diligent and faithful to their community. We want to have those who represent us, actually represent us, and not hidden party-political interests.

This is what the fight for electoral reform is about, fixing the system so that it becomes more in line with high-quality democracy and removing the present ills that we all know so well. 

Proportional representation system

The ANC says that they have always supported a proportional representation system, because this system ensures that different political viewpoints are able to find representation in Parliament. Unfortunately, the ANC has taken the constitutional provision that requires that elections should result in proportionality in general, and decided that the best way to achieve that is through party political representation.

While this may be their preference, as this system evidently helps them retain power, the Constitutional Court has already ruled that other electoral systems can meet the constitutional standard of general proportional representation.

In fact, the alternative bill submitted by Mosiuoa Lekota, which introduces a constituency-based system that allows for citizens to directly vote for their MPs, does not remove proportionality. Instead, it allows for an improvement in the quality of accountability and representation.

The ANC is backing an approach that did not even garner the majority support of the ministerial advisory committee set up by the minister, which is a body of experts who did not deem this approach fit for purpose. The reality is that the ANC prefer it because it comes with the least meaningful changes and with the highest barriers of entry for independent candidates. 

Public confidence all-time low 

As demonstrated by the success garnered by independent candidates and civic organisations in the local government elections, public confidence in politicians and political parties is at an all-time low. The amendment of the Electoral Act sets us up to make substantive changes to the Act to include a constituency-based system, where MPs are directly accountable to their communities, but the ANC has chosen a narrow, technical and un-transformative approach.

They ignore some of the major issues with the Bill, including that it leads to discarding the votes of ordinary citizens. The Bill proposes that votes over the threshold for a seat will simply not be counted. The Constitutional Court has already deemed that a vote is central to dignity. It is clear, therefore, that by ignoring such an important aspect of one's dignity, discarding votes would be unconstitutional. 

ALSO READ | Carol Paton: More seats for fewer votes - How electoral reform could benefit ANC and big parties

For a liberation movement to be unbothered about wasted votes, where the right to vote was hard fought for, is concerning. Instead, at one of the most critical moments in our democracy, the ANC is concerning itself with trivialities regarding the Amendment Bill.

The ANC suggests that an independent candidate should pay a R200 000 deposit for a national seat and R45 000 per province, with no room for any exceptions. The ANC is adamant that political parties and independent candidates must compete on the same terms, and this is one way to ensure that.

Economic realities in South Africa 

This is classist, irrational and a complete disregard for the economic realities in South Africa. Given the history of dispossession and exclusion in South Africa, the deposit requirement will likely have a disproportionate effect on previously disadvantaged racial groups and women. Not having significant economic means should not preclude one from being a public representative.

The Constitutional Court judgment, that independents can contest, was not one for only those with means, but for all South Africans who so wish. It would be irrational to tell an individual that in order to compete they have to pay the same amount of money as an established political party. This would defeat the purpose and deprive the voters of options. 

This response from the ANC is a clear indication that the ANC is not interested in competition; this is why they have tried to create additional barriers for independent candidates in their submissions. 

In addition to this, a candidate must also submit one-third of the votes needed to win a seat in the previous election. This, according to the ANC, is to deter frivolous candidates. It is noted that candidates running under the banner of a political party do not have to validate their candidacy through the collection of signatures before an election. One must wonder, how many frivolous and unwanted candidates have made their way into Parliament because they have not been subject to the vetting that the ANC proposes for independent candidates.  

Nonetheless, the signature requirement is a less restrictive way of establishing that someone is a bona fide candidate, without imposing harsh, inflexible financial barriers.

ALSO READ | Mudzuli Rakhivhane: Draft electoral bill can change SA's democracy, but has 4 key flaws

The ANC expresses grave concern about independent candidates who would buy the signatures of supporters, or who would use promises of reward or jobs to find themselves on the ballot. They suggest that there should be "very serious punishment" for those who do. A noble cause, but where are the measures for members of political parties who are offered positions and gain their place on the party list based on their votes at national conferences.

If the ANC is concerned about people buying their way onto the ballot and into Parliament, then they equally need to advocate for an open list system in political parties whereby the public determines who, and at what position, they want to see on their party lists. They may also want to consider no longer delivering food parcels to communities during elections.

It reserves seats for political parties 

The ANC states that it is only fair the independent candidates pay the same amount of money to compete with political parties because "one seat is one seat, whether for a political party or an independent" and that "independents should compete on the same terms as parties". Yet the same ANC endorses a bill that limits the participation of independent candidates to only 200 of 400 seats, and representatives of political parties can compete for all 400 seats in Parliament.

This is unequal and unfair, and effectively reserves seats for political parties. This is not something that would have been envisioned by the Constitutional Court judgment as independent candidates should be able to compete for all available seats because that is the premise of equal participation. 

The ANC is concerning itself with issues that are really in the purview of the IEC - issues such as alphabetical order and the length of the ballot are not issues of a material nature. The fact that they are making these complaints reveals that they are more interested in preserving a strategic advantage than giving the voters quality representation through wholesale electoral reform.

The measures they propose are clearly intended for the purposes of gatekeeping and creating significant barriers to new players.

- Mudzuli Rakhivhane is the spokesperson for the One South Africa Movement. 

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