| ANALYSIS | Letlhogonolo Letshele: Weighing up the choices of suspending an election

IEC barrier tape at a voting station. (Photo by Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo) IEC barrier tape at a voting station. (Photograph by Gallo Photographs/Sharon Seretlo)

Following the discharge of former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke’s report that elections ought to be postponed till February, My Vote Counts Letlhogonolo Letshele weighs up the professionals and cons of holding the native authorities elections at a later date.

Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke has handed over the ultimate report back to the Unbiased Electoral Fee (IEC) on the findings into the feasibility of free and truthful elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Justice Moseneke advisable that native authorities elections be postponed till February 2022 for elections to be considered free and truthful because of the menace posed by Covid-19 and the present restrictions on political exercise. The IEC is but to determine on the native authorities elections scheduled for 27 October 2021.

The security of holding elections throughout a pandemic has been an apple-of-discord since international locations worldwide started implementing public measures to curb the unfold of the virus. Contemplating this, the IEC arrange an inquiry evaluating the affect of Covid-19 on circumstances conducive for holding free and truthful elections later this 12 months. The inquiry thought-about submissions from civil society organisations like My Vote Counts (MVC), medical specialists, political events, and teams and people who’ve an curiosity in native authorities elections.

What to think about if we need to postpone elections

Native authorities is, in lots of instances throughout the nation, in a state of disaster.

Native authorities is central to the supply of important providers, and the municipal audit for 2019/20 revealed that solely 27 of South Africa’s 257 municipalities obtained a clear audit. That’s ten lower than the native authorities 2018/19 audit.

Throughout the identical interval, the Auditor Basic reported R26 billion in irregular expenditure in municipalities. On this context, native authorities elections is usually a highly effective device that localised communities can use to carry public representatives to account.

The pandemic is altering how selections are made — it has even disrupted elections and undermined the democratic course of.

Given the dangers posed to the voters, voting employees and campaigns, postponements may be rational. Nevertheless, such selections may fail to satisfy democratic requirements both as a result of new elections aren’t scheduled promptly or officers set new dates with out making ready for protected and safe voting. These and different associated modifications in elections can injury the credibility of elections.

Even the medical specialists have indicated that we can not predict the trajectory of the pandemic and the way it will have an effect on us in February 2022 when native authorities elections are anticipated to happen. Thus, the choice to postpone elections within the hope that Covid-19 will enhance at a later stage may be detrimental.

Experiences from different international locations have proven that modifications to a deliberate election date result in additional postponements, resulting in political uncertainty, introducing instability.

Voter turnout

One of many greatest considerations is that suspending elections might end in decrease voter turnout. Municipal elections typically expertise decrease voter turnout than nationwide and provincial elections, however with this advisable postponement, many could really feel disadvantaged of their proper to carry elected representatives accountable when it issues essentially the most and determine to not additional partake within the electoral course of. It is a issue that must be thought-about as a result of folks shouldn’t have to decide on between their well being and exercising their political rights.

READ | Moseneke report: Will the IEC postpone the local government elections …or not?

Part 159 of the Structure is obvious that the time period of a Municipal Council will not be greater than 5 years and when its phrases expire, an election have to be held inside 90 days after that.

As of 1 November, present Municipal Councils will stop to exist and lose their authorized mandate to perform. Thus, Municipal Councils functioning past this era shall be constitutionally invalid. As identified by constitutional specialists, addressing this will not be doable.

Attainable methods of guaranteeing a postponement of elections

As a result of no precedent can information us in what to do throughout a world well being pandemic and neither is there a legislative framework to information the circumstances beneath which a postponement is made, the authorized choices out there to permit for the postponement of the election are troublesome to implement.

The choice to amend the Structure would take about three months and requires a majority of 75 % of members of Parliament, which is unlikely as political events are divided on the postponement of the election. Whereas the choice to method the courts has no assure as a result of the courts have by no means been requested to make such an order.

As such, a postponement ought to solely be considered beneath circumstances the place all different cheap options have been exhausted the place holding free, and truthful elections can be not possible, to such an extent that the election must be nullified or there may be compelling proof that the election would result in a big unfold of Covid-19.

The IEC ought to seek the advice of with related stakeholders together with political events earlier than making a closing choice. Related stakeholders have to be consulted to make sure that their inputs are thought-about in whether or not to halt the election till February. 

Justice Moseneke tried to strike a steadiness between advanced components to find out whether or not free and truthful elections may be held throughout a pandemic.

The advice to postpone till February is cheap due to the specter of Covid-19 and present restrictions on political exercise. The IEC shall be beneath strain to determine in a matter of days whether or not it would implement Moseneke’s advice to halt native authorities elections till February. Whereas the prioritisation of public well being is essential, any success won’t be sustainable with out robust democratic establishments.

– Letlhogonolo Letshele is the Electoral Programs Officer at My Vote Counts. She holds an MA in Politics and Worldwide Relations from the College of Johannesburg. She has a eager curiosity in human rights, democracy and governance. 

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