Maimane slams electoral reform bill, says SA's democracy is being held hostage

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Mmusi Maimane.
Mmusi Maimane.
Misheck Makora
  • One South Africa Movement leader Mmusi Maimane has taken aim at the Electoral Amendment Bill before Parliament.
  • Maimane argues political parties are stifling change in South Africa’s political landscape.
  • In 2020, the Constitutional Court ruling declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional because independent candidates were barred from contesting general elections.

The full realisation of South Africa’s democracy is being held hostage by the legal monopoly of political parties on the electoral system.

This is according to One South Africa Movement (OSA) leader Mmusi Maimane, who has taken aim at the Home Affairs Ministry's Electoral Amendment Bill currently before Parliament.

On Monday, Maimane said the phrase from the Freedom Charter that "the people shall govern" remained a lofty ideal.

READ | Changes to electoral system would require 'large investments' to repurpose system - IEC

He was speaking at a press briefing held outside Parliament.

"The current status quo does not function to fully and wholeheartedly give effect to the founding principles of this country enshrined in the Freedom Charter, which highlighted the supremacy of the South African people - not the South African political party.

"We can no longer view the phrase 'the people shall govern' as a fulfilled ideal when it is clear that is not the case. We can no longer view the phrase 'the people shall govern' as a lofty ideal when there are opportunities available to build a reality in which the people truly could govern," he said in a submission prepared for Parliament.

In June 2020, a Constitutional Court ruling declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional.

The New Nation Movement (NNM) launched a bid to allow an independent candidate to run for office in general elections and challenged the current Electoral Act 73 of 1998, arguing it infringed on the right to exercise individual political choices.

READ | New political era: DA reaps the rewards as opposition parties kick ANC to the curb

The NNM wanted the act to be amended to allow independent candidates to run in provincial and national elections.

The Constitutional Court found that channelling individuals to stand as candidates only through political parties was unconstitutional as it was a negation of political rights guaranteed under Section 19 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, the court held Section 1(d) in the founding provisions of the Constitution must be interpreted to denounce a one-party system of governance and not to sanction an exclusive party PR system.

The apex court also ordered that Parliament should correct the act. The judgment was suspended for 24 months for Parliament to amend the legislation.

Maimane said the bill sought to introduce qualifications for independent candidates to contest general (national and provincial) elections.

"Some of the qualifications sought to be imposed may create obstacles to the participation of independent candidates in elections. First, an independent candidate will be required to satisfy the Electoral Commission (IEC) that he/she has the support of a sufficient number of voters who are registered within the region or province in which she is standing for election. Much like in the local government elections, the candidate would be required to submit a minimum number of signatures," he said.

Another bone of contention is that an independent candidate would have to pay a monetary deposit that is refundable if they are allocated a seat.

READ | One South Africa Movement-led organisations to launch Independent Candidate Association

If an independent candidate did not garner enough support for a seat, the deposit would be forfeited.

"Failure to comply with either requirement will result in disqualification from contesting the elections. No provision is made in the Electoral Amendment Bill for condonation or waiver of either the signature or deposit requirements. It is noted that a candidate running under the banner of a political party does not have to validate their candidacy through the collection of signatures before an election," Maimane said.

This unjustifiably limited the right to contest elections, he added.

"[It] constitutes indirect unfair discrimination against less affluent potential candidates and unjustifiably limits the right to dignity." 

OSA will present its objections to Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee in March.

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