ANC and EFF will have to work together if they want to merge national and local elections

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IEC results centre (File)
IEC results centre (File)
  • The IEC says a synchronised election would require an amendment of the country’s constitution. 
  • This means the parties which want it to happen, the ANC and EFF, will have to work together in Parliament. 
  • Its chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo says, while it might save on time and costs, it relegates local government issues, as national matters are likely to dominate debates.

As it happened with the motion to expropriate land without compensation in 2018, a synchronised election in South Africa could be a possibility if the ANC and the EFF find each other in Parliament.

The two parties, which have often been at odds with one another, agree on the proposed postponement of the 2021 local government elections.

In 2018, the governing party backed a motion put to the National Assembly by EFF leader Julius Malema, which set in motion the path towards amending aspects of Section 25 of the Constitution.

Currently, South Africa holds two sets of elections every two years, with one focusing on choosing municipal leaders and the other on electing national and provincial leaders.

Plans for the polls, as with many other aspects of normal life, have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen large gatherings being discouraged in favour of social distancing and staying at home.

The global pandemic has also resulted in the Electoral Commission of South Africa considering different ways the polls could take place, including a postponement of the 2021 local government polls.

While the EFF has been vocal regarding its call for all elections to be combined, and the ANC has gone with a consultative process, the IEC said its simply not feasible yet.

The IEC’s chief electoral officer, Sy Mamabolo, said the commission was planning for the 2021 elections, as was expected of it by the country’s Constitution.

"Anything is possible if the necessary constitutional framework for the convening of the elections is there," Mamabolo told News24.

He said it would require a constitutional amendment.

"Political parties in Parliament must then craft a paradigm, constitutionally that would allow a synchronised election, but as matters stand it would be unconstitutional without an amendment," said Mamabolo.

The EFF has said it would make policy and legislative submissions to Parliament, seeking to combine the elections so the country could "transit into common election system", arguing that the current system was cumbersome and often deprived public representatives of the opportunity to make true of the promises it had made to voters during the campaign season.

The party said the elections woud have to be postponed to 2024, if their request was granted.

While this was the idea put on the table by the EFF, its spokesperson Delisiwe Ngwenya said no decision had been made to approach the ANC yet.

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule said, in a statement following its national working committee last week, that the impact of Covid-19 on the elections would be discussed by the ANC and other political parties at the national party liaison committee, which is convened by the IEC.

Magashule said numerous scenarios had been discussed by the NEC, including synchronisation of the polls, alternative methods of conducting elections, which could include electronic voting, as well as some introduction of constituency-based representation at both national and provincial levels.

The final option stemmed from a Constitutional Court outcome, declaring the country’s Electoral Act unconstitutional, and ordering it to be amended to allow independent candidates to run in the provincial and national elections.

READ | Constitutional court rules electoral act is unconstitutional, opens way for independent candidates

Magashule, who called for wide-spread consultation on the matter, said it also had to be supported by a "rigorous evidence-based approach", and that the constitutional implications had to be taken into account.

Numerous voices have debated the idea, with former IEC vice-chairperson and now chairperson of the Institute of Election Management in South Africa Terry Tselane being one of them.

He has made a case for a single election, based on cost and time saving. Tselane also argues that Covid-19 has made some processes followed by the IEC obsolete.

ALSO READ | Why a single election is ideal for SA

Mamabolo, who said he had heard some of the arguments for and against a synchronised, said there were pros and cons to both sides.

"There are benefits in terms of the cost benefits. It wouldn’t be necessarily half, but there would be some cost benefits and there would also be time benefits," he said. 

Downside

The chief electoral officer at the IEC said the downside of merging the elections would be national matters dominating discussions.

"The national issues are going to take centre stage and the local government issues are likely to be relegated in this paradigm… they won’t get to be heard," said Mamabolo.

He said he was also worried about voter education and that voters would not understand how five ballots - which has been touted to replace the two used for provincial and national polls and the third used for municipal ballots - related to the different spheres.

He said the IEC was almost done capturing addresses for the voters’ roll as per the Constitutional Court judgment ahead of the 2016 polls and that the matter - should a synchronised election take place - would have no bearing.

Mamabolo said the commission was almost done with the task, having made a lot of progress over the past two years.

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