Parly's home affairs committee gets an earful from Western Cape residents over electoral reform bill

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Hearings into the Electoral Amendment Bill have been concluded.
Hearings into the Electoral Amendment Bill have been concluded.
Alet Pretorius, Gallo Images
  • Public hearings on the much-debated Electoral Amendment Bill have been concluded.
  • If passed, the Bill could radically change the way elections are conducted in South Africa.
  • Parliament's Home Affairs Committee will consider all the submissions at physical and virtual public hearings.

Public hearings on the Electoral Amendment Bill concluded on Wednesday and it's now in Parliament's hands to pave the way for independent candidates to take part in general elections - the earliest being the 2024 polls.

Parliament's Home Affairs Committee held 27 public meetings across the country and listened to the views of ordinary South Africans on the bill, which could radically change the way elections are conducted.

On Wednesday, the committee concluded hearings in the Western Cape towns of Mossel Bay and Citrusdal.

READ | SA's electoral system is ripe for radical change, OSA tells Parliament

In Mossel Bay, local DA member Mervin Barnard said his party supported the bill, but with some reservations.

"Independent candidates should stand, but we object for them to be on a PR list. It means they wanted to be treated as a collective and not as individuals. They will therefore be treated as a political party. There can be no independent candidates collective. In our current electoral system, there are wasted votes, because people vote for smaller parties. Those votes they (smaller parties) received are discarded, and no one has complained about this before," he said.

In June 2020, a Constitutional Court ruling declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional after 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. They argued that it infringed on the right to exercise individual political choices.

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

The Constitutional Court found that expecting 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.

Welcome Mtshali from Plettenberg Bay pleaded with the committee for more time to consider the bill.

He said:

If we continue as is, we will be doing a disservice to the people. It's a crucial subject we are dealing with and must be worked through. Go back and ask the Minister of Home Affairs for an extension. We cannot do good work in a period of four months.

Babalo Dubula, an ANC member from Mossel Bay, said: "We don't support independent candidates as there are too many parties in Parliament whose responsibilities and work (that they have done) is not visible."

READ | What happens if an independent MP resigns or dies? Parly hears concerns about Electoral Amendment Bill

Luzuko Blackwell, an EFF member from the Bitou Municipality, vehemently opposed the bill.

"If we have passed this bill, it will cause an administrative nightmare for the electoral commission (IEC). We are opposed to that idea. The bill is not going to strengthen democracy. It will be hijacked by people with money to control independent candidates. They don't have a collective to answer to. The rich will then attack and influence our democracy," he said.

One of the major sticking points of the bill is that, in its current form, it only allows 200 national-to-national parliamentary seats to be allocated to independent candidates - and, if an independent candidate dies while in office or resigns, the seat will not be filled for the remainder of the term.

The Constitutional Court's June 2020 order directed Parliament to correct the Act.

The judgment was suspended for 24 months for Parliament to amend the legislation.

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