Electoral Amendment Act: We have always supported PR system – ANC

Party expresses concern about practicality of some of the proposals currently contained in the Bill

ANC statement on Electoral Amendment Act public hearings

7 March 2022

The African National Congress welcomes the public hearings on Electoral Amendment Bill being undertaken by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs throughout the country which started today, Monday, 7 March 2022, in Limpopo.

We commend Parliament for holding public hearings in all provinces to allow meaningful public participation by South African citizens in determining how they elect their public representatives.

The Electoral Amendment Bill seeks to address the ruling by the Constitutional Court that the Electoral Act is unconstitutional to the extent that it does not provide for independent candidates to be elected to the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures.

The ANC supports the broad approach taken by the Electoral Amendment Bill and will make the following proposals to strengthen various provisions of the Bill:

Support for Proportional Representation System

The ANC has always supported a Proportional Representation system as it is best suited to a country as diverse as ours in terms of race, class and language. It ensures that every political viewpoint shared by more than one quarter of one percent of the population is able to find representation in parliament and speaks on behalf of that constituency.

We have never supported a first past the post constituency system as it is very difficult to reach the same level of diverse representation when only one, or maybe a handful of people are selected to represent a distinct geographical area. Each geographical area has its own levels of diversity and division.

The PR system has meant that even small parties that get as little as 0,25% of the vote remain in parliament and have a voice in every legislature. It is hard to imagine any other small party winning constituency seats when constituencies (if there were 200) for parliament would have at least 100 000 voters.

The PR system also allows better representation of women, youth and other marginalised groups, in line with our nation's commitment to equality and unity in diversity.

The ANC supports Option 1 — the so-called "minimalist" approach — in the Ministerial Advisory Committee as it is contained in the Amendment Bill. This option attempts to retain the existing PR system as far as possible. We broadly support it as the best option for implementing the Constitutional Court order.

We do however, have some very serious concerns about the practicality of some of the proposals currently contained in the Bill. We urge the Home Affairs Committee to consider these challenges carefully as they may cause unintended consequences that can harm our democracy.

We wish to avoid further court challenges by either independents or parties that may feel disadvantaged. We also wish to maintain the principles in the Constitution that demand from us that our electoral system reflects overall proportionality.

Need to Avoid Problematic Long Ballots

We are very concerned that the new system can result in a very long ballot paper that is impractical. For example, if we have 48 national parties (as in 2019) and another 200 individuals who stand as independents, the ballot paper will need about 10 pages — with 25 names per page.

A multi-page ballot is a big problem for voters, the IEC and parties — it will need a much longer time to vote, as voters must search for the name of their party or independent among many other names.

A ten-page booklet for a ballot will mean the IEC needs to have much bigger budgets for printing, distribution and staff. Even ballot boxes will have to be ten times as many to accommodate the ballots. Counters will have to check every page of every ballot to make sure it is not spoilt by a voter voting twice. Counting could also take 5-10 times as long.

We are very concemed that the Amendments should find a way to not waste money and time and make elections too complicated and impractical. Ultimately, if voters find it difficult to vote and find their preferred choice on a ballot, the election will not reflect the will of the people.

We need to review the qualifications to stand as an independent candidate and as a new party. If we do not make it stricter, we can have thousands of candidates. In 2019, despite the proliferation of parties, only 14 of the 48 parties garnered sufficient support from voters to make it into parliament.

We propose that new parties who are not yet represented in a legislature or parliament, and independent candidates, should be able to demonstrate that they have voter support and have some chance of winning a seat. We suggest that the threshold should be at least one third of the quota needed for one seat in the previous election.

Independents should compete on same terms as parties

The Constitutional Court obliges Parliament to make amendments to the Act to allow independents to stand against parties in national and provincial elections. It does not force us to change a system that has served the diversity of our country well. Our electoral system and institutions are amongst the most trusted of institutions, and to date, we have had neither voters nor parties ever successfully contesting that we had free and fair national or provincial elections.

We have to make sure the system stays fair, simple and practical. A crowded and long ballot can make elections a logistical nightmare.

At the moment, parties pay R200 000 deposit for national and R45 000 per province — they win back their deposit if they win one seat. The committee should decide if the same threshold could apply for deposits for independents. One seat is one seat ­whether for a party or an independent.

Similar to independents in wards, independent candidates and parties that do not have any seats from previous elections, must be able to show that they have at least some support that could potentially win a seat. We should have a very low limit of support to allow serious parties and independents to participate, without encouraging frivolous parties and people and overcrowding the process.

We support that unrepresented parties and independent candidates should be able to show support of at least one third of the votes needed to win a seat in the previous election. This is the only way to keep the ballot paper to a reasonable size.

Formula for Calculation of Seats

If Parliament is divided into many small fractions, forming government is challenging. There is a big danger to using the current formula for seats and a lot of parties come in on less than one seat's worth of votes. Votes required for the quota for one seat has often been between 40 000 and 60 000 per seat, depending on the legislature and voter turnout. But some small parties have won seats on 10 000 votes in the National Assembly due to the formula for the largest remainder vote being used to allocate leftover seats.

Potentially, we can have many small parties and independents occupying key seats that hold a balance of power in a legislature or Parliament where no party gets over 50%. This is happening at municipal level and often leads to unstable and temporary coalitions. This could be much worse at national and provincial government where govemment could be paralysed by small parties and independents who represent only tiny fractions of voters, but who can make stable governance impossible.

We propose a two-stage process where all who meet the full quota for one seat, are awarded a seat — whether as parties or independents. Once no one is left who is entitled to a seat based on meeting the full quota threshold, the remainder seats should then be given to the parties that have the highest average of votes per seat won. An independent can obviously only occupy one seat and their surplus votes will be discarded. Any party that has surplus votes should have these added to their total and divided by the number of seats already won by them. The party with the highest average will get a remainder seat. This is the only way proportionality can be maintained and we can prevent a situation like we have currently where many parties with less than 0,25% support still occupy seats.

Most other countries with PR systems have a much higher threshold of 3% - 7% of the vote before any seats are awarded. This is done to maintain stable govemment. It is difficult to negotiate across dozens of fractions and totally acceptable in international practice to require significant support for public representatives.

Sanctions for Cheating, Misrepresenting, Manipulating System

No one should be allowed to cheat to get onto a ballot paper. If you need to show support it most be genuine support. If any unrepresented party or independent candidate or anyone working for them, fakes or misrepresents signatures, buys supporters to sign, or tries to mislead the IEC, there should be very serious punishment for doing so.

No money or gifts or promises of reward or jobs should be used to secure signatures of support. A clear process for making objections to signatures of support should be included in the Act.

Issued by Pule Mabe, National Spokesperson, 7 March 2022