Wednesday, January 26

IEC attempts to delay local government elections seriously set back


The Electoral Commission (CEI) is addressing the Constitutional Court this week to ask for its blessing to delay the local government elections from October this year to February 28 next year, citing the difficulties of holding free and fair elections during a pandemic.

Almost a dozen political parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been admitted as intervening parties or friends of the court, most of them arguing against any delay on the grounds that local government is dysfunctional and must be repaired without delay. .

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The Electoral Commission’s case is largely based on the so-called Moseneke Report, which made several recommendations to reduce the transmission potential of Covid-19, for example, by extending voter registration, expanding special voting arrangements for the sick. and vaccinations for poll workers. He also recommended delaying the elections from October 2021 to February 2022, as he considered that the elections would not be free, fair and safe if they were held in October this year.

Read: Inquiry Recommends Delaying SA Local Government Elections

‘Harmful’

The South African Constitution requires elections to be held within 90 days of the expiration of the municipal councils’ mandate. The date recommended by the Electoral Commission of February 28, 2022 falls outside this 90-day window, so it has approached the Constitutional Court for its blessing or, alternatively, to declare its actions unconstitutional (in delaying the elections) , but postpone them. they issued any order in this regard after February 28, 2022, which is, in effect, a “malicious” side step of the Constitution according to some lawyers involved in the case.

Even the medical experts surveyed in the Moseneke report could not agree on whether the elections should be held in October or February next year.

Tim Tyrell, project manager for the Organization to Undo Fiscal Abuse (Outa), says the recent social disruptions in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, including Covid-19, are not sufficient justification for delaying the elections.

“While there are challenges to the smooth running of these elections, these are outweighed by the critical importance of holding these elections properly and on time,” says Tyrell.

“There is much that urgently needs to be fixed in our local government structures, and any delays play in the hands of those who want the current and, in many cases, dysfunctional municipalities to remain in place. The abundance of evidence of widespread corruption, mismanagement and mismanagement simply cannot be ignored any longer and therefore it is vital to the nation that local government elections proceed as scheduled. ”

Read: To postpone or not to postpone? Local elections are hanging by a thread

Tyrrell says that the country does not dare to delay the elections even one day if we want to fix everything that is wrong in our municipalities. “Democracy, like justice, postponed, is democracy denied,” he adds.

The delay would give civil society more time to ‘organize’

Melanie Veness of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business says that while local government failure is one of the biggest obstacles the country faces, delaying elections gives civil society more time to organize by taking advantage of Section 15A of the Act. of Electoral Commissions 51 of 1996., which basically says that any organization can register with the IEC to participate in local government elections. They do not need to be a political party.

“It is time for civil society to stand up and be the change we need at the local level,” he says.

“We have to put our towns and cities back on the right track. To do that, we need leadership that is elected by the people and accountable to them.

“Bad infrastructure and poor service delivery make the operating environment extremely difficult for businesses to navigate. The mandate of local government is to create an enabling environment for businesses to operate, and in most cases we are doing the opposite. Unfortunately, I don’t think having the election now will bring the change and responsibility that is so desperately needed. ”

The audience weighs

A Dear South Africa public participation campaign on the question of postponement of the elections elicited almost 8,000 responses, 63.3% of them against a postponement. This led the group to request to be admitted as a friend of the court to argue against a postponement.

Campaign manager Rob Hutchinson says that the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission), by requesting the postponement of local government elections, is asking the court to suspend democracy. “The IEC is asking the court to sanction a delay in the elections until February 2022 or, alternatively, to declare unconstitutional and invalid any failure to hold elections for October of this year, but to suspend that decision until after 28 February. February 2022.

“The ConCourt is being asked to pronounce on something that is beyond its powers. You cannot suspend democracy by renouncing the Constitution due to a pandemic for any length of time.

“Who can say that we will not have another variant of Covid in February next year, and we are forced to delay the elections again,” says Hutchinson.

Mandla Mpempe, from the Center for Good Government and Social Justice, says the group also opposes the postponement of the next local government elections.

‘This is a manageable situation’

“We all appreciate the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has on communities. However, this is a manageable situation, ”says Mpempe.

“Putting the right plans and systems in place can mitigate potential risks. The IEC could expand its Code of Conduct for local government elections to insist that Covid-19 protocols are observed before and during campaigns and on election day. The IEC could also hold elections for an extended period of, say, two days. ”

Mpempe says that many of the current councilors are, in any case, guilty of human rights abuses because they did not provide basic services to the communities.

Extending his mandate beyond October 2021 will amount to further subjecting communities to misery and degradation.

Court petitioners’ arguments

Council for the Progress of the Constitution of the SA (Casac) Executive Secretary Lawson Naidoo says Casac is arguing that the commission is essentially looking for an opportunity to hold non-pandemic elections and that it has not explored what free and fair elections look like in pandemic circumstances.

John Endres, Executive Director-elect of the Institute of Race Relations, who has come forward as a friend of the court, advocates staggered election dates due to the different peaks and valleys of infection in different provinces. Endres asks ConCourt if it rejects the commission’s case, dismiss it and hold the commission accountable for its work.

AfriForum’s Local government affairs manager Morne Mostert argues: “… it is beyond debate that the extent of poor service delivery by many municipalities across the country and the local government’s non-compliance with its mandate Constitutional in many respects, it itself infringes on the fundamental rights of members of the public on a large scale. This includes the right to dignity and the right to livelihoods. ”It further maintains that the only way to hold delinquent municipalities accountable is to elect new councilors within the timeframes allowed by the Constitution.

Johann Kriegler, President of Freedom Under Law, and a former ConCourt judge, has requested to make appearances as a friend of the court. He says:

“In essence, the Electoral Commission asks the court to grant it a court-sanctioned mandate to violate the Constitution, prior to its intended violation.

“I am cautioned and argued that it would not only set an incorrect, but a dangerous and far-reaching precedent, if it were granted.” The ConCourt is the gatekeeper, not the source of the Constitution, and cannot grant the relief requested by the commission. Hundreds of elections have been held around the world during the pandemic, but the commission is asking ConCourt to make an exception in this case when it has been over a year old. [since the pandemic was declared] to make contingency plans.

The Western Cape MEC for local government You have filed a notice with the court that you will oppose the request for delay.

Yasmin Duarte, Undersecretary General of the ANC (which has been presented to the court as an intervening party), argues that if ConCourt agrees to delay the election, the new election date should be set no later than April 2022, not February 28, 2022 as requested by the commission. This is based in part on available scientific data suggesting that SA is likely to experience a fourth Covid wave towards the end of 2021.

Philip Machanik, Leader of the Makana Independent New Deal (MIND) political party, argues that municipal financial dysfunction is part of a larger picture of failed service delivery and collapsed infrastructure. Alternatives for delaying the elections were not fully explored and, in the absence of elections, “less regulated” political activity will continue, posing greater risks of spreading the virus.

Werner Horn, representative of the district attorney on the National Party Liaison Committee, opposes the postponement of the elections on the grounds that the court lacks competence to invalidate the Constitution, and even if it could, it would be permissible when there was no doubt that it was necessary to protect some other central constitutional value. “The commission’s own evidence shows that elections have only caused spikes in infections when they were held when infections were already high and when large gatherings were allowed. Neither will occur in the October 2021 elections. ”

The president of the African Transformation Movement, Vuyolwethu Zungula He argues that South Africans are desperate for change, particularly at the local government level, where corruption is rampant and service delivery is poor. Regular elections are a vehicle for that change. Argue against any delay.

Read: SA to declare election date, forerunner to delay voting


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