Controversies cloud the new Electoral Amendment Act of 2022

South Africa’s new Electoral Amendment Act signed recently into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is raising more controversies and contradictions than the intended solutions. The Act allows independent candidates to contest for elections to the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures. The next general election is due in May-August 2024.

Civil society activists are preparing to return to the Constitutional Court to challenge the very act which is an outcome of a ruling by the same court in 2021. The activists are accusing South Africa’s Parliament of delivering shoddy work on a piece of legislation for which they had over 30 months to produce.

The Amendment Act is an outcome of a petition filed in the Constitutional Court by the New Nation Movement, challenging the electoral law’s rigidity of not allowing independent candidates to run for national and provincial elections. The court ruled that it is a violation of people’s freedom of association to be forced to run as candidates only through political parties.

The petition was premised on the argument that when voters elect political parties, they do not get to know the faces of who will represent them in the national assembly and provincial legislatures.

Thus, the Political Parties are not directly accountable to the electorate because after being voted for, they nominate their own representatives and fill up their respective party lists of who sits in the national assembly or the provincial legislatures. Experience proved that the men and women nominated by the political parties are more accountable to their own party leaders than to the citizens.

Secrets Known understands that South Africa has often run a pure proportional representation system where every vote is counted in terms of the proportion of seats in Parliament. The percentage of votes garnered by a political party is equal to the percentage of seats.

According to Grant Masterson, Head of Programmes at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), “Allowing independent candidates to contest throws a spanner into the works. The bone of contention is: How will independents be slotted into South Africa’s pure proportional representative system?”. “The system was not designed for political parties and independent candidates to run side-by-side”, observed Masterson.

With the pure proportional representation system at play, it remains unclear how results between political parties and independent candidates are going to be calculated and computed into percentages.

For example, if an independent candidate turns out to be popular and garners a significant number of votes but falls short of attaining the required threshold of votes required to be declared as elected, those votes may become wasted votes, yet in the proportional representation system, every vote counts.

There is also a possibility of having an enormous number of independent candidates nominated to contest on a particular seat that may create a situation where the ballot paper is overrun by independent candidates.

The South African electoral system was designed with political parties exclusively in mind and this is one element the legislators did not reflect on deeply before passing the electoral amendment bill.

As it stands, the people of South Africa will look to individuals rather than political parties to fix their political challenges and needs. It remains to be seen what voice individuals will have on the country’s political discourse in the national assembly and provincial legislatures.

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