The Electoral Court on Thursday granted the Electoral Commission of South Africa’s (IEC) urgent application to postpone the by-elections scheduled for March, April and May.
The IEC welcomed the decision in a statement.
“The court ruled that the by-elections could be held beyond the 90-day legislated period for the filling of councillor vacancies, but not beyond 120 days from the date of the order.
“The Electoral Commission will monitor Covid-19 developments over the coming weeks and will make announcements regarding the rescheduling of the by-elections after a thorough evaluation of the circumstances and in line with regulations governing the national emergency,” reads the statement.
The IEC encouraged voters to monitor its website and follow on social media to receive updates.
The IEC on Monday approached the court, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Sunday that a national state of disaster had been declared, which included a range of measures to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The measures announced included urging people to limit physical contact and prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people.
“The election process involves relatively close physical contact between election officials and voters, including the exchange of ballot papers and inking of thumbs. At the end of the voting process, ballot papers must also be counted,” according to an earlier statement from the IEC.
“Where an infected voter has handled a ballot, indications are that active viruses will last for at least 10 hours. This will be yet another opportunity for cross infection of officials conducting the counting process.
“Given heightened awareness and concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic, there is also a real possibility that significant numbers of voters may stay away from voting stations in the upcoming by-elections. This will result in low participation levels, which will undermine the freeness and fairness of elections.”