The ANC has expressed reservations about the practicality of some proposals in the Electoral Amendment Bill.
The party is suggesting that some of the proposals could result in a 10-page ballot paper with about 250 names, which would be costly and logistical nightmare for the Electoral Commission. The National Assembly’s portfolio committee on home affairs started public hearings on the bill last week.
The Constitutional Court found in June 2020 that exclusive party proportional representation could no longer be used and that independent candidates should be allowed to stand for provincial and national elections.
In its judgment, the court gave parliament 24 months to correct the defect in the Electoral Act. The deadline is June.
The bill, a result of the court process, proposes two options — a minimalist option which entails modifying the existing multi-member electoral system to accommodate independent candidates in the national and provincial elections without many changes in the legislation, and a multi-member proportional system.
In a statement on Monday, ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe said the party supported the broad approach.
The party said it has always supported a proportional representation (PR) system as it is best suited to a country as diverse as ours in terms of race, class and language.
“It ensures that every political viewpoint shared by more than one quarter of one percent of the population is able to find representation in parliament and speaks on behalf of that constituency,” he said.
“The PR system also allows better representation of women, youth and other marginalised groups, in line with our nation’s commitment to equality and unity in diversity,” the ANC said.
Mabe said the party supports the so-called “minimalist” approach as it is contained in the bill.
“This option attempts to retain the existing PR system as far as possible. We broadly support it as the best option for implementing the Constitutional Court order.
“We do, however, have some very serious concerns about the practicality of some of the proposals contained in the bill,” Mabe said, and urged the portfolio committee to carefully consider the proposals as they may cause unintended consequences that can harm SA’s democracy.
Mabe said the party was “very concerned” that the new system could result in a long ballot paper that is impractical.
“For example, if we have 48 national parties (as in 2019) and another 200 individuals who stand as independents, the ballot paper will need about 10 pages — with 25 names per page.
“A multi-page ballot is a big problem for voters, the IEC and parties. It will need a much longer time to vote, as voters must search for the name of their party or independent among many other names.”
A 10-page booklet for a ballot would mean the IEC having much bigger budgets for printing, distribution and staff.
Even ballot boxes will have to be 10 times as many to accommodate the ballots, and counters would have to check every page of every ballot to make sure it is not spoilt by a voter voting twice. Counting could also take five to 10 times as long, warned the ANC.
“We are concerned that the amendments should find a way to not waste money and time and make elections too complicated and impractical.
“Ultimately, if voters find it difficult to vote or find their preferred choice on a ballot, the election will not reflect the will of the people.”
The party called for a review of the qualifications to stand as an independent candidate and as a new party, saying if these are not made stricter, SA could end up with thousands of candidates.
It proposed that new parties which are not yet represented in a provincial legislature or parliament, and independent candidates, should be able to demonstrate that they have voter support and have some chance of winning a seat.
“We suggest that the threshold should be at least one third of the quota needed for one seat in the previous election.”
The party wants independent candidates to compete on the same terms as parties, saying political parties pay a R200,000 deposit for national and R45,000 per province which they get back if they win one seat.
“The committee should decide if the same threshold could apply for deposits for independents. One seat is one seat — whether for a party or an independent.”
The parliamentary process has come under criticism for the delays, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s preference for the “minimalist option” and MPs are accused of being referees and players in that they are amending legislation but they represent political parties and are seeking to keep the status quo.