IEC Must Take Public into Confidence on Plans for Elections
30 June 2021
Today, ActionSA called for expanded terms of reference in the Justice Moseneke Public Inquiry into Free and Fair Elections. In our oral submission to the inquiry, ActionSA has requested that the inquiry decides on whether the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has taken all reasonable steps to institute comprehensive measures that would result in elections being held safely. To date, the IEC has failed to take both political parties and the public into their confidence and reveal what measures they have taken to avoid an outcome where the Local Government Elections are postponed due to inadequate preparation.
It is imperative that political parties and the public are made aware of the IEC’s plans so these may be properly interrogated by political parties and the public. Having scrutiny of the IEC’s plans is critical to assuring South Africans that they can vote safely. This is essential to ensure that no single South African voter is disenfranchised because of an avoidable lack of confidence in the IEC’s ability to implement a clear plan for safe local government elections.
As ActionSA, we appreciate the human and economic suffering caused by Covid-19. South Africans from every walk of life have been affected by this pandemic and the safety of our people must always come first. This said, protecting the safety of South Africans and ensuring their right to vote are not mutually exclusive aims. Rather, they are co-dependent aims. Given the present state of our politics, preserving the wellbeing of South Africans includes ensuring that they have the power to elect the right leaders who can provide services and see to their safety. It has never been more important to have South Africans exercise their democratic right to vote.
We equally sympathise with the IEC – its mandate to hold free, fair, and credible elections now includes a pre-condition for the elections to also be safe. It must be acknowledged that much has changed between the submission of our written and oral submissions, particularly given the rise of infections in the present third wave of COVID-19. However, we are confident that with a reduction in infection rates, adequate planning and proper public communication on plans, elections can be held safely.
Whilst the IEC exercises no control on levels of infection within the country, it can control its own internal plans for election readiness. The possibility of holding safe elections will ultimately depend on the IEC’s ability to communicate its plans and the confidence South Africans have in them. No such confidence can be created where there is no transparency surrounding those plans.
Whilst recognising COVID-19’s impact on the coming Local Government Elections, it is important that the IEC is not allowed to fashion its own crisis by not adequately planning for the appropriate management of the coming elections.
Key questions remain as to:
How has the IEC benchmarked its safety measures against those used by the 75 countries that held general elections last year;
what best practices have emerged from these general elections and from our by-elections which have taken place since November last year;
Which of these measures will the IEC implement; and
what is their readiness to implement these safety measures?
In our consultations with the IEC, we have already indicated several other steps that may be taken to increase the probability of elections taking place safely:
Having additional special voting days to allow South Africans who are over the age of 60 or suffer from co-morbidities to cast their votes prior to the main election day;
Extending the main election day to take place over 2 days to reduce the number of people voting at any given point in time; and
Increasing the allocation of public election broadcasts to contesting political parties, including unrepresented parties, to compensate for limitations on campaigns that will continue through the election campaign.
As an organisation committed to the Constitutional rule of law, we believe that any decision to postpone or delay elections would be an assault on the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
The people of South Africa are desperate to have a political change that allows them to lead dignified lives. The IEC must ensure all that South Africans have the opportunity to change their lives by exercising their right to vote.
Statement issued by Michael Beaumont, ActionSA National Chairperson, 30 June 2021