Motion of Desirability: Electoral Amendment Bill clears another hurdle

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Luca Sola / AFP
  • A Motion of Desirability on the Electoral Amendment Bill has been adopted.
  • The committee can now deliberate on and consider the bill.
  • The bill and the committee's process have been criticised.  

The Electoral Amendment Bill cleared another hurdle in the legislative process when the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs adopted a Motion of Desirability on the bill.

This decision on Tuesday clears the way for the committee to consider and deliberate on the bill, which has drawn sharp criticism from civil society.

Adopting the Motion of Desirability means the committee views the bill as adequate to amend the Electoral Act, in line with the Constitutional Court's ruling in June 2020.

The apex court ruled that "the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 is unconstitutional to the extent that it requires that adult citizens may be elected to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures only through their membership of political parties".

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

The amendment must thus create provisions for people not belonging to a party to be elected to Parliament and the provincial legislatures.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi appointed a Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), chaired by former minister Valli Moosa.

The MAC's majority recommendation envisaged a system that provided a mixed single-member constituency and proportional representation (PR) system.

Motsoaledi and his department went with the minority advice and drafted a bill that relied solely on a PR system, amending it as little as possible.

This route is supported by the ANC.

Apart from concerns about the form and substance of the amendment, civil society organisations are also concerned about the process the committee has followed regarding the bill.

Furthermore, Parliament will not meet the deadline imposed by the Constitutional Court to amend the Electoral Act.

The court suspended the order of invalidity for 24 months to allow Parliament to make the necessary amendments. The deadline is 10 June 2022.  

As is often the case, Parliament deferred its duty to the executive. The bill was drafted by the Department of Home Affairs, and the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs only started working on the bill this year.   

READ | Electoral Amendment Bill: OSA considers options after Parliament asks ConCourt for extension

Parliament has since approached the Constitutional Court for an extension of the deadline.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the committee's chairperson, Mosa Chabane, said it intends "to ensure that Bill's amendment is done in a thorough and meticulous way that also ensures extensive public consultation, primarily because the amendment of this Act has a direct bearing on the credibility of South Africa's democracy".

"Nonetheless, the committee is disappointed by a media report over the weekend that sought to undermine the process by spreading various inaccuracies," Chabane said, presumably about a report in the City Press, which said that Parliament and the Department of Home Affairs' dithering was placing the 2024 elections at risk.

"The committee and, by extension, Parliament has, at no stage, sought to delay the amendment and has emphasised that the inclusion of independent candidates will strengthen South Africa's democracy. It is on this basis that the committee had to make time for an extensive and meaningful public consultation process.

"Also, the process has been inclusive of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), which assured the committee that the commission will still have time to implement the electoral changes before the 2024 provincial and national elections.

"The committee will continue to process the Bill and will await further guidance from the Constitutional Court on the application that has been filed requesting an extension."

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