Electoral Act and structuring of polls ‘make a delay to 2024 impossible’.
Picture for illustration. Sealed IEC ballot boxes at a voting tent in Brackenfell, Western Cape on 8 May 2019. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency
The biggest headache for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in delaying upcoming local government polls hinged on the Electoral Act requiring the holding of elections within 90 days of the previous election date, an expert said on Friday.
The impact of Covid-19 and calls by the EFF to delay elections by the next three years has brought into focus how political parties, government and the IEC have been ill-prepared in coming up with innovative ideas during the global crisis, according to Sanusha Naidu, senior research fellow with the Institute for Global Dialogue.
The Covid-19 challenge required innovation “in terms of how parties define election campaigning and an strategy”.
“There are technical issues, the Electoral Act and there is the issue of the structuring of our elections, from a conceptual perspective – making a delay to 2024 impossible,” said Naidu.
“The argument from the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] is that the first quarter has been lost, with a lot of political parties leaning towards the fact that it would not be a free and fair process.
“Their argument will be based on the fact that none of them were able to go out and canvass for votes, hold rallies and launch manifestos.”
To further delay the polls, parties would have to lodge an amendment to the Electoral Act.
“I am not sure that could be done during this period, but extending elections to 2024 could be a bit of a stretch,” she said.
“Year 2022 may sound reasonable, but not 2024. Parties need to get out of the old way of approaching elections –
different to bringing large crowds of people into stadiums.
“From an IEC perspective, we should remember that the electoral body has also asked for the postponement of by-elections until February.”
With a daily upsurge in recorded Covid-19 cases, Naidu said everything “depends on the infection rates, fluctuating in numbers per a 24-hour cycle, which is very erratic and unpredictable”.
“Mortality rates are now above 500 a day and that is quite concerning,” she said.
“In the next week, we may see mortality rates going above a thousand. The IEC will also have to rethink on how to conduct elections during Covid-19.
“From a structural and institutional perspective, we are not ready to hold any kind of an election than we have previously hosted.
“We are not ready to have people queuing at voting stations with ballot papers. We are also not ready for door-to-door visits by election officers.
“We can’t use the Post Office for mailing ballot papers because that institution is in a state of crisis. We are in a real state of crisis when it comes to the elections.
“We are going to need capacity, training and more personnel on the ground under these circumstances for sanitising and keeping social distancing.”
A special sitting of the Electoral Court and political parties “to look at voter feasibility by the second half of 2022, is the solution”.
University of South Africa political science professor Dirk Kotze said: “The ANC and the EFF have for some time been in favour of consolidating elections into one day in 2024.
“Some aspects of that are not practically possible – like by-elections, which if postponed until 2024 may see some councils collapsing and becoming dysfunctional.”
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