Parliament votes ‘no’ to direct elections

While all eyes were on the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech yesterday, a small handful of Members of Parliament voted “no” to direct elections and greater transparency and accountability in public office.

Political Parties banded together and rejected the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill – The People’s Bill – designed to change the way leaders are elected and held accountable.

The Bill, which has been before Parliament since 2020, seeks to change the electoral laws in line with the Constitutional Court’s New Nation Movement judgment which declared the SA electoral system unconstitutional, giving Parliament 24 months to remedy the unlawfulness. There are about 100 days till that deadline.

The People’s Bill’s key features are:

•    Independents having the right to stand for election;
•    Smaller national Parliament and provincial legislatures;
•    An open and transparent party list system;
•    Constituency-based elections made up of 52 constituencies;
•    A single transferable vote so as to ensure no votes are wasted;  and
•    Electronic elections.

“The Bill is the surest way to inoculate our democracy from the current systemic failures that are leading to poor policy making and low accountability. Despite this, political parties currently in Parliament want to remove the people’s voice and the people’s choice in this matter. They are set on passing an unconstitutional Bill that will likely be caught up in court battles for years to come,” One South Africa (OSA) Movement National spokesperson Mudzuli Rakhivhane said.

“By saying no to the People’s Bill, Parliament is saying yes to government’s unconstitutional bill. It is unconstitutional for the following reasons.

“Firstly, the government bill creates wasted votes. For example, if an independent candidate obtains 120,000 votes but only requires 50,000 votes to gain a seat in the National Assembly, the proposed government bill would discard the surplus 70,000 votes obtained by that independent candidate. The bill also takes the votes from independents and allocates them only to political parties in the PR allocation of seats,” Rakhivhane said.

“Discarded votes are unconstitutional. In the New Nation judgment the constitutional court emphasised that the vote of every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Discarding their votes would have the outcome of ignoring citizens voices and erasing their dignity. It would also create an electorally bizarre outcome that votes meant for independents would wind up adding seats for political parties, expressly the opposite intention of those who vote for independents.”

He continued: “Secondly, the Executive Bill limits independent candidates only to 200 seats in parliament. The remaining 200 seats are effectively off limits, ensuring that there will always be 200 seats occupied by political parties. Candidates of political parties would therefore have a distinct advantage compared to independent candidates as they would be competing for two sets of seats.

“The Constitutional Court emphasised that the right to free and fair elections includes the right to compete on equal terms. This bill creates unequal terms and is designed to prevent independents from fairly competing for all available seats. It also has the purpose of preventing independents from ever having a majority in parliament and is thus inherently and grossly unfair.”

On Tuesday March 1, OSA will be making oral presentations to the committee to raise the issues of unconstitutionality and unfairness. In addition to this OSA will prepare a constitutional court challenge if the bill is pushed ahead.

“The constitutional court made it clear that they want substantive reform and not superficial reform. They left the door open for parliament to do the right thing and honour the wishes of Nelson Mandela who called for reform in 1999, followed by the 2004 Van Zyl Slabbert report and the 2017 Motlanthe high level panel recommendations,” Rakhivhane said.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to improve the quality of our democracy for now and for generations to come. It is therefore important that the amendment to the Electoral Act is in the spirit of the constitutional court judgement and meaningfully addresses the failings of the current electoral system.”

He said it is the will the people and that OSA will fight for it every step of the way.

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