Moseneke Inquiry: DA objects to the postponement of 2021 LGE

The DA has presented oral submissions to the Moseneke Inquiry in support of the Local Government Elections (LGE) proceeding this year. The submissions can be accessed here.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) appointed Judge Dikgang Moseneke to prepare a report in terms of Section 14(4) of the Electoral Commission Act.

The Inquiry was established to make findings and recommendations on whether the IEC would be able to ensure a free and fair 2021 LGE.

The DA does not support the postponement of the LGE and submitted the following arguments to back our position:

The LGE must adhere to the Constitutionally prescribed timeframe:

According to our Constitution, the LGE must take place every 5 years.

The decision by the IEC, as a Constitutional body operating in a Constitutional democracy, to investigate whether it is likely or not to ensure a free and fair election, should never have been made on the grounds that some political parties hold the view that the election should not take place within the Constitutionally prescribed timeframe.

Especially since none of those political parties has attempted to initiate any process, via their representatives in Parliament, to amend the Constitution in order for the LGE to take place at a later stage, in a Constitutionally compliant manner.

The decision by the IEC to formalise this process is at best ill-advised, and at worst a failure on the part of the Commission to uphold its own independence and the requirement to not treat some political parties differently to others.

Furthermore, any process to entertain arguments that are in contradiction to Constitutional provisions which obligates the IEC to arrange the elections to take place on/before 1 November 2021, must be viewed as questionable Constitutional conduct.

State of readiness for political parties:

The state of readiness, or lack thereof, of any party, should not be considered in any way by either the IEC or the Moseneke Inquiry, as a valid reason to postpone the elections.

The DA is of the view that many political parties who argue for a postponement of the 2021 LGE have, in as many words, admitted that a major reason for their position is their own state of unpreparedness for the elections.

The election timetable is a regulatory mechanism to ensure free and fair elections. It cannot and should not be changed based on the readiness of a party to contest in an election.

Participation:

Protestations of political parties that the LGE should be postponed because it will lead to the infection and death of many South Africans are irresponsible and emotional.

These statements are unfounded in light of the various by-elections which took place since the start of the State of Disaster.

While scepticism exists around the Covid-19 protocols and turnout had been lower than the average turnout in the 2016 LGE, this is not indicative of any general intention on the part of the electorate not to vote in the 2021 LGE because of the Covid pandemic.

Covid infection rates:

The DA has been advised that a number of unlikely events and occurrences would have to materialise in order for an “unmanageable spike” in infections to be present in the run-up to the 27 October Election Day.

We were further advised that most scientific models, at this stage, predict that there is a very good possibility that infection rates will be stable and even low in the period immediately before and on 27 October.

The fact that government’s vaccination programme is now finally showing some progress also works against the possibility of an “unmanageable spike” in infections even though it is accepted that the number of people that will in all likelihood have been vaccinated by Election Day will not meet the threshold that will establish so-called “herd immunity”.

The right to campaign :

The right to campaign is ultimately not a right that exists for the benefit of political parties but rather for the benefit of voters.

The postponement of the LGE cannot, therefore, be based on the convenience of political parties to host political campaign events. Parties cannot claim that they are unduly restricted from campaigning solely on the basis that one form of campaigning (i.e. larger and mass meetings) are prohibited.

It is our view that no reasonable voter will view the prohibition on larger gatherings during the campaign period as a clampdown on political rights.

The prohibition of large gatherings can therefore not be viewed as an impediment to free and fair elections. A range of other campaign methods remains available to political parties and candidates.

Ultimately, South Africa’s systems to contest free and fair elections are still intact.

For one, South Africa’s legislative framework and Bill of Rights are mechanisms that give effect to the formal protection of rights and freedoms such as the right to vote, the right to form and participate in the activities of political parties and the right of individuals and political parties to contest elections.

In addition to this, the IEC has already made it clear that it has either already discharged its duties to ensure the presence of some of the elements of free and fair elections, or is favourably positioned to do so.

The Commission is also on record that it will, once again, call on all political parties to sign and commit to the Electoral Code of Conduct.

The DA is of the view that the IEC is ready to ensure free and fair elections and there is no basis for the elections to be postponed.

John Steenhuizen

Leader of the DA

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