Despite a few glitches and sporadic incidents of violence, yesterday’s local government polls were conducted in a generally peaceful, free and fair manner. This is a sign that our democracy is maturing. Municipal polls have, in the past, been dogged by low turnouts.
However, there were signs that yesterday’s polls attracted a record number of voters, judging by the snaking queues at some voting stations reminiscent of those in 1994, when millions of South Africans went to the polls to elect the country’s first democratic government.
According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the majority of the country’s 22 612 voting stations were open on time and voting flowed smoothly. While this is commendable for the IEC, the commission needs to get its house in order. It is inexcusable for an organisation with more than two decades’ experience of running elections to be experiencing problems such as a lack of voters’ rolls, ballot box seals and scanners.
According to reports, faulty or too few scanners created long queues at several voting stations. Another pressing matter the IEC urgently needs to focus on is the faulty voters’ roll that posed a threat to the credibility of the polls.
In June, a constitutional crisis was averted when the Constitutional Court found that the IEC had acted invalidly and inconsistently with the Electoral Act and the rule of law when it failed to record and keep the residential addresses of voters on the roll.
However, the court suspended its order of invalidity until June 2018 to allow yesterday’s elections to go ahead. The IEC must now pull out all the stops to ensure it will be fully compliant with its legal duty to obtain and keep voters’ addresses by the time of the 2019 national elections.
Political dynamics in SA are changing rapidly, as evidenced by yesterday’s polls. National polls due in 2019 will arguably be the most hotly contested since 1994. With so much at stake, the IEC will have to comply with every piece of legislation governing credible elections by fixing the defective voters’ roll.