South Africa’s electoral body, the Electoral Commission (IEC) is under siege.
Never before in its brief history has the body experienced such a credibility deficit; and this close to a major national election.
The IEC will go to the Constitutional Court in May this year to seek clarity from the nation’s apex arbiter on what exactly it meant when it instructed the body to acquire voting address details of all 25.3 million registered voters on its database.
This judgement will then help the institution plan better for ad hoc by-election windows and overall national polls while simultaneously mitigating the prospect for any possible voter fraudulent activities.
Final voter registration weekend
Last week President Jacob Zuma announced that South Africa’s Municipal Elections will take place on 3 August 2016, well within the 18 May – 16 August constitutional window.
The date of course will still need to be proclaimed by being published in the Government Gazette. Only then will the voter’s roll close.
Soon after President Zuma’s announcement, the IEC was quick to encourage voters to rush to their voting stations to check their registration details. They were also encouraged to bring along proof of their addresses.
By Thursday evening, the IEC was in full registration mode, communicating on an almost frantic level including dispersing bulk smses to 5.3 million registered voters urging them to take along proof of address details.
The other 6.2 million were reached through other mediums such as radio. The 1.6 million ‘missing’ segment would still need to be communicated to.
And by Friday, the IEC’s only hopes rested on the final voter registration weekend, 9 and 10 April.
In a first, the IEC subsequently published online REC 1 forms which could be populated beforehand and taken to the registration district, eliminating frustration of long queues on both registration and voting days.
But have you heard of Tlokwe?
It is almost unfathomable to believe that this development was the sole creation of a small local municipality somewhere in the North West, namely Tlokwe.
During the last few years, this tiny council in Potchefstroom was thrust into the national psyche when gatvol ANC councillors declared enough was enough with their then elected mayor, Maphetle Maphetle.
Convinced to side with the opposition, these 16 councillors defied party instructions and instead installed DA-chosen mayor, Professor Annete Combrink.
The ANC was not going to take this lying down. It hauled the errant councillors to a disciplinary, dismissing some and warning the others.
The fired councillors then decided that because the local government system permitted them to stand as independents, why not take on the ANC and teach them a valuable lesson in politics.
Court case after court case followed; mayors were installed and removed; urgent interdicts dismissed; and by-elections held and dissolved. And this is exactly where we are today.
Constitutional Court ruling compelled the IEC to provide physical addresses for all registered voters – not just Tlokwe
This latest quandary however emanates from the November 2015 Constitutional Court ruling that compelled the IEC to provide physical addresses for all registered voters – not just Tlokwe.
If this was not possible, details around where voters were ‘ordinarily resident’ should be supplied.
In January this year—the IEC under the impression that it had finally sorted out the logistics for the Tlokwe by-elections to be re-staged—announced that the polls would indeed be held on 24 February.
To demonstrate just how committed it was to a fair and transparent process, the IEC convened a Code of Conduct signing ceremony with six political parties and eight independents in attendance.
However, by 23 February, the Electoral Court intervened pushing the Tlokwe by-elections forward for another six weeks citing the IEC’s failure to adhere to the November 2015 Constitutional Court judgement.
Without haste, the IEC hurriedly convened another media briefing signalling its intention to approach the highest court to clear up a few issues, including:
• Whether the judgment of the Constitutional Court with regard to the capture of addresses for voters is prospective or retrospective in as far as it relates voters who were on the voters’ roll prior to 30 November 2015;
• Whether the lack of an address on the voters’ roll invalidates that voters’ roll;
• Whether the term “where available” in the legislation relates to the address being available to the Electoral Commission or available to the voter;
At that briefing, the body confirmed that only 8.7 million (36%) of all registered voters on its database boasted a “full conventional address; 8 million (32%) had a “partial or generic address”; and some 8 million (32%) possessed “no conventional address details” at all.
The IEC later revealed it would need at least until November 2019 to realistically obtain full address details of all registered voters.
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