15 September 2022
Hon. MS Chabane MP
Chairperson: Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs
Parliament of South Africa
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For attention: Mr E Mathonsi
Dear Hon. Chabane,
SUBMISSION ON ELECTORAL AMENDMENT BILL [B1-2022]
Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission in response to your email dated 2 September 2022 in which you have called for public submissions and comments on the aforementioned Bill.
Our submission is made in two parts, the first being the Inclusive Society Institute’s (ISI) overall assessment of the Bill under consideration, and in the second, we make specific comments on the provisions highlighted in your 2 September 2022 call.
Part 1: General comments
The Institute is of the view that a golden opportunity was missed, namely that Parliament should, in our opinion, have been more responsive to the broader public’s insistence on wider electoral reform, that would offer a greater degree of accountability and representivity than the current system does. To this end, the ISI again attaches (as Annexure A) our electoral proposals for consideration. We do so in light of the overwhelming view by civil society that the current proposals are neither responsive to the will of the people, nor constitutional, and not workable.
To this end, the ISI would, in the event of a further extension being granted by the Constitutional Court, support the withdrawal of the current Bill in favour of introducing legislation that responds more adequately to public opinion and the 2020 Constitutional Court judgement, as represented by the vast majority of civil society organisations engaged with electoral reform. It does so against the backdrop of most, if not all, submissions made in response to the Portfolio Committee’s (PC) call for comment; and the majority view of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC). We are also aware of the correspondence addressed to the PC by the Chairperson of the MAC, cautioning against the feasibility of the existing Bill under consideration.
The Institute is also cognisant of the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) anxiety with regard to having sufficient time to properly prepare for the 2024 general election, and that a constituency-based election requiring the establishment of a Demarcation Board would not allow for sufficient time to prepare for the elections. However, it may be possible, as a transitional arrangement, to introduce a Multi-Member Constituency (MMC) system that is based on the already demarcated District and Metropolitan boundaries already in place. In such instance, the ISI is of the view, that there will be sufficient time for the IEC to prepare for the 2024 election.
At the very least, should the aforementioned proposal not be feasible, a legally-binding commitment to broader electoral reform in time for the 2029 general election needs to be made. That is, what the ISI has termed a two-step approach: Firstly, the passage of the existing Bill before the PC in preparation for the 2024 general election, and secondly, the introduction of broader electoral reform in time for the 2029 general election. This, of course, with the proviso that the current bill before Parliament is able to pass constitutional muster.
It is the ISI’s considered opinion that the current bill is fatally flawed, the main contention being that it, amongst others, goes against the first founding principle of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, namely that our democratic dispensation requires equality in the advancement of human rights and freedoms. In the legislation before the National Assembly, parties and independent candidates are not treated equally. This is because independent candidates are juxtaposed against political parties, and not candidates representing political parties. To achieve an outcome which is proportional, in general, under the proposed system, is not possible.
We attach hereto, as Annexure B, our own legal opinion, as it relates to specific clauses, for your consideration.
Part 2: Specific comments in response to the PC’s 2 September 2022 call
In this part, the ISI highlights some of its concerns that emanates from the legal opinion contained in Annexure B. The PC is urged to take note of the various other nuances contained in the opinion.
Amendment to 31A
The Institute would like to acknowledge the constructive proposed changes to section 31A, as well as the other positive proposals by the PC, not least those related to Schedule 1A.
Even though we must again express our concerns regarding the distance between independent candidates and the electorate resulting from the system being proposed by the PC - due to the large regional electoral battlefields – which is in in contrast to the ISI’s MMC-based system that will result in greater accountability and representivity due to the elected representative being closer to the voters, and therefore more responsive to them, given the constitutional need for equality, the idea of permitting independent candidates to be nominated in as many regions as they like, is supported.
That said, the proposal, read with the provision in Schedule 1A that independent candidates contesting in more than one region cannot aggregate their vote, results in independent candidates not being treated equally to parties, and is thus, in our view, unconstitutional. It does not allow for an independent candidate that may have sufficient national support to reach the quota, but not so in in particular region, to gain a seat in Parliament, whilst, a small political party with an equal distribution of votes, could be elected via the compensatory list.
The remedy, the Institute suggests, lies in allowing for independent candidate votes across the country to be aggregated and by removing the division of National Assembly seats in regional seats and national compensatory seats. Thus, we suggest that section 7(2)(c) in the PC’s proposed amendments be changed accordingly and in line with the Institute’s comment below on the amendment to Schedule 1A.
The Institute would also wish to ask the PC whether they have given sufficient consideration to the practicalities with regard to the ballot papers. Already, given the large number of political parties that contest elections, South Africa has unwieldly ballot papers. Add to this the additional independent candidates, which could quite easily far exceed 50 nationally, the length of ballot paper will undoubtedly be extremely daunting to most voters.
Amendment to 31B(3)(a)
Once again, the principle of equality is breached, in that independent candidates will require in excess of 10,000 supporting signatures, whilst a party, at its formation, only requires 1,000 signatures, should it contest a national election, and less, when contesting provincial or municipal elections. Cognisance needs also to be taken of section 19(3)(b) of the Constitution, which posits that any additional limitations on an adult citizen to stand for public office is not permissible, suffice for it being justifiable in terms of section 36 of the Constitution. The ISI’s legal opinion suggests that the support requirement for contesting elections imposes a significant limitation on adult citizens’ rights under section 19(3)(b).
The remedy, the Institute believes, is to either remove it in its entirety; or replace it by a requirement identical to that placed on political parties in section 15(3)(a) of the Electoral Commission Act, read with regulation 3 of the Regulations for the Registration of Political Parties (GNR.13 of 7 January 2004, as amended), namely that an independent candidate should only be required to submit a list of supporting voter signatures once and in the same number as that applied to parties. Furthermore, the number of signatures should not be that high that it could be viewed as a scheme to eliminate independent candidates from participating. Thus, the current signature required for parties to register, should not be significantly adjusted.
Allocation system as provided for in Schedule 1A
In that independent candidates can only compete for half the available seats in parliament, that is 200 seats, and political parties may compete for the same 200 regional seats and a further 200 compensatory seats, it means a mathematical improbability that the constitutional requirement for the election outcome to result in general proportionality can be achieved. As per the ISI’s legal opinion, “while viewed separately, it can probably be argued that the manner of allocating seats to independent candidates and political parties respectively in the Bill will not fall foul of section 19(3)(b) of the Constitution, the differentiation between the two categories raises constitutional concerns…the differentiation between types of candidates in how seats are allocated will quite likely fall foul of section 9 of the Constitution” and the in general proportionality provision. An aggravating factor is the fact that the Bill does not adopt a similar approach in the allocation of seats in provincial legislatures. For those seats, the different types of candidates are treated the same in the allocation calculation. That raises serious doubts as to the justifiability of the differentiation in allocating seats in the National Assembly.
To this end the Institute offers two possible remedies:
But first, there are two aspects to consider.
In the first instance, in addition to Froneman’s assertion that the system should not fail the proportionality test, Judge Jafta, in the same Constitutional Court ruling, noted that it was not only about disenfranchising citizens, but it cannot be that some people’s voices “count more than others in our representative democracy”. He states that the rationale goes beyond disenfranchisement, but also to the distortion of equality in political voice, that is the voters’.
Therefore, the Institute’s conclusion is that a vote for an independent candidate must be of equal value to that of a party, at least insofar as it will not distort proportionality, in general. The discarding of non-aggregated votes goes against this principle.
The second aspect relates to the problem of independent candidates’ votes being discarded in provinces due to them not being aggregated, which could distort general proportionality in a particular region.
To overcome this, the Institute puts forward two possible remedies:
In the event of the PC not accepting our recommendation to aggregate the votes of independent candidates across the whole country, then it is recommended that independent candidates be restricted to participating in only one region, as is the case for party-nominated candidates. But in addition, that the division of National Assembly seats in the regions and national compensatory seats be done on a more equitable 300/100 split, that is 300 seats allocated to independent candidates and parties competing in the regions and 100 seats to parties competing for seats on a compensatory list. This will move the electoral system closer to the ideal of achieving proportionality, in general. It will also improve equality in the handling of independent candidate votes on the one hand, and party candidates on the other.
Whilst this remedy does not result in full equality, it substantially improves the position from that proposed in the PC’s version of the Bill. We are of the opinion that the improvement should be sufficient to satisfy the notion of proportionality, in general, as the availability of 25 per cent compensatory seats is generally considered sufficient to ensure a reasonable level of proportionality, despite deviations from proportionality in the multi-member constituencies in South African under the current dispensation in the provinces.
However, a greater level of equity is achieved in remedy 2 below.
As a remedy it is recommended that the division of National Assembly seats in regional seats and national compensatory seats be removed from the Bill and that the allocation of all seats in the National Assembly be done on an equal basis between independent candidates and political parties, along the same lines as that for provincial legislatures.
Whilst the total number of seats is calculated for the single national constituency, the IEC will still distribute elected representatives in accordance with provincial-to-national and national-to-national party lists as is the current position.
Then the only difference between the way in which the allocation of seats are made between parties and independent candidates are that the excess votes – that is more votes than needed to be elected – are discarded. This, the Institute believes justifiable, in that an independent candidate can by definition be no more than one person. The Institute cannot refrain from pointing out that political parties also have excess votes, that is, votes beyond the number of votes exactly required to obtain the number of seats they are allocated, and that is never seen as a particular problem under any electoral system.
Should an independent candidate be of the view that the excess votes cast for him- or herself should not be discarded, or is of the belief that he or she has broad public appeal that will result in many more votes than required to be elected, then there is a remedy: He or she needs to take a personal decision as to whether he or she wishes to be an independent candidate or part of a broader movement. Should it be the latter, he or she retains the right to form a party in order to benefit from any excess votes.
Three ballot papers: 6(a) and 6(b) of Schedule 1A
In the Institute’s view, the introduction of three ballot papers for the national and provincial elections, as it relates to the question of equality, creates a number of problems:
The effect is that parties are being compensated for the share of votes “lost” to independent candidates when the PR (compensatory) element is calculated. For reasons already explained, and as pointed to in the Institute’s legal opinion, this undermines the constitutional requirement for equality in treatment between independent candidates and political parties.
One can speculate about the problems for voters – a voter voting for an independent at the regional ballot and the DA for the compensatory ballot is one thing. But another voter will maybe vote ANC on the regional ballot and EFF on the compensatory – it will be very confusing for many voters and for the IEC staff. This will further compromise the achievement of overall proportionality.
The remedy is to maintain the two-ballot system for national and provincial elections. This becomes feasible given the proposed equality of treatment proposals above, since there is no change from previous elections in the manner seats are calculated. The Institute is also of the view that the voting system needs to be simple for the voter to understand and for the IEC to execute.
The ISI wishes to thank the PC for the opportunity to make this submission. It is our humble submission, however, that what is trying to be achieved is to amend a system that is not amendable. What is required is a completely new system. To this end we propose an urgent electoral reform dialogue between the public policymakers and civil society to, given the tight timeframes running up to the 2024 general election, chart a practical way forward that satisfies both the broader public sentiment and the practical considerations for delivering an on-time, free and fair election in 2024.
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