Electoral Amendment Bill: No reason to panic, says Mapisa-Nqakula

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National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
Jan Gerber
  • Parliament is "successfully executing" its legislative mandate, says Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
  • Parliament will miss a deadline set by the Constitutional Court to amend the Electoral Act, but according to Mapisa-Nqakula, there is no reason to panic.
  • MPs on the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs say independent candidates must be treated fairly in terms of deposits and lists of signatures to show they have support in the community.

Four days before Parliament will miss a deadline set by the Constitutional Court to amend the Electoral Act, National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says Parliament is legislating successfully and there is no reason to panic about the Electoral Amendment Bill.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mapisa-Nqakula addressed the National Assembly on Parliament's budget for the 2022/23 financial year.

"Parliament's constitutional mandate of law making was successfully executed, managing to pass a total of 20 bills during the period in review [the previous financial year]," she said.

"It is also worth noting that Parliament was able to finalise a number of legislations, key among which was legislation aimed at combating gender-based violence, which was officially recognised as a second and a worsening pandemic during the Covid lockdown period."

In June 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled "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".

Parliament had 24 months to amend the Electoral Act to allow independent candidates, and the deadline expires on Friday, with no chance of being met.

Parliament, however, deferred to the executive and Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi only tabled the bill in January 2022.

Parliament has since approached the Constitutional Court to extend the deadline, and the decision is eagerly awaited.

READ | Electoral Amendment Bill: Parliament missed court's deadline because of 'dithering, ducking and diving' - OSA

In her budget speech, Mapisa-Nqakula also turned to the "concerns that have been raised recently about the work [Parliament] are doing in finalising the Electoral Amendment Bill".

"As members are aware, as per agreement in the National Assembly Programming Committee of 17 February 2022, Parliament has approached the Constitutional Court for a six-month extension within which to process the Electoral Amendment Bill.  

"I would want to assure the public that both Houses of Parliament are committed to processing this bill timeously whilst at the same time, taking into account the necessity for thorough public consultation on a matter of such importance to our democratic dispensation. We hope that the president assent to the bill before the end of 2022."

She said: 

We must state categorically that there is no justification at all for recent attempts by some to cause public panic by suggesting that the general elections of 2024 are at risk.

"Having said that, it remains the duty we have to this democracy as Parliament, for every member in this House to work together to ensure that this bill succeeds."

Meanwhile, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on Tuesday morning continued processing the bill.

The committee decided to refer some of its concerns to legal advisors and the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) for clarification.

Among these matters are the deposits and lists with signatures showing candidates are supported in their communities, which they would have to provide under the bill's current provisions.

Liezl van der Merwe
IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe
News24 Jan Gerber

IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe said they should not be putting up barriers for independent candidates to participate in elections.

"Everything we do in amending this amendment bill should keep the fairness element in the back of our minds," Van der Merwe added. 

Committee chairperson ANC MP Mosa Chabane said: "One of the areas we might need to try to interface is whether we need to have more barriers for independent candidates, which may constitute unfairness."

He added at the public hearings the committee had on the bill earlier in the year, there was a view political parties wanted to make it difficult for independent candidates, saying the committee "may need to affirm the principle of fairness".

READ | Electoral Amendment Bill: Civil society slams Parliament for not meeting constitutional obligations

DA MP Adrian Roos said it while they were speaking about fairness, the need for accountability also came out strongly in the public hearings.

"Showing support is an indication that you are accountable to a voting constituency.  

"I don't think political parties would have a problem if they also had to get a list of supporters, for example, and submit that," he added.

"So fairness is the one side, accountability is the other side." 

Roos suggested the IEC should brief the committee on best practices in this regard at the committee's next meeting.

Van der Merwe said the committee's job was to include independent candidates in the election.

"Our job, therefore, is not to create barriers for independent candidates to stand, but to create fairness, equality and ensure inclusivity."         

She added she was not against deposits, but it needed to be calculated with a fair formula. 

DA MP Angel Khanyile said in everything they did, they must ensure independent candidates were treated fairly.

ANC MP Brandon Pillay added he wanted to dispel the notion they wanted to place barriers for independent candidates.

"There has to be some kind of criteria, [otherwise] it means that just about anyone and everyone can then be able to participate and contest elections."

The IEC will also explain to the committee at its next meeting how seats will be allocated.

The committee will also work through the coming recess.                      

Parliament will rise next week and only reconvene on 15 August.

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