Victory on election law shows value of civil society collaboration – IRR

If offending clauses had become law there would have been risk of future elections not being free or fair

Victory on election law shows value of civil society collaboration – IRR

3 December 2020

The IRR welcomes the removal of two dangerous clauses from the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill of 2020 by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs.

The now retracted clauses would have allowed the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to replace the current manual voting system with an electronic one far more vulnerable to manipulation and fraud.

This comes after the IRR was successful in mobilizing significant political and civic opposition to the Bill.

As the IRR wrote in its submission on the proposed amendments, “traditional manual voting system are not entirely immune from irregularities. However, international experience confirms that the safeguards they provide are far stronger than those available under electronic systems. In particular, traditional voting systems are far more transparent because they provide a paper trail and can be observed at every stage”.

The retracted clauses proposed to give the IEC the power to introduce an electronic voting system by the simple expedient of stipulating “a different voting method” for future elections at all three tiers of government. The commission – which is vulnerable to cadre deployment and political manipulation – would have been able to do this by regulation and without reference to Parliament. The IEC’s decision would also have overridden all existing legislation to the contrary.

The Bill would have gone largely unremarked had the IRR not flagged its dangers and co-ordinated a rapid public response. With the help of many other organisations, this saw more than 12 000 written objections submitted to the committee within ten days. This upsurge in public pressure has now resulted in the removal of the two dangerous clauses.

Says Hermann Pretorius, Head of Strategic Initiatives for the IRR: “The truth of the well-known saying, ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance’ has again been shown. There is no doubt that the IRR – and the many others who rallied to the cause – have helped to safeguard our democracy by bringing about the retraction of these damaging clauses.

“Had this Bill become law with the offending clauses still included, there would have been a very real risk of future elections not being free or fair. This in turn would have made it far more difficult for South Africans to vote out a ruling party in which they had lost all confidence.

“This is an important victory for the entire country. For the IRR, it marks an advance in the ongoing battle of ideas, in which our objective is to make sure all South Africans are able to #LiveFree.”

Issued by Hermann Pretorius, IRR Head of Strategic Initiatives, 3 December 2020