Deck the electoral halls with holly — electoral reform is in the ...

Ideas

Deck the electoral halls with holly — electoral reform is in the air

The tabling of the new electoral bill will hopefully exorcise the ghosts of Christmases past

Executive editor: opinions and analysis
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has tabled a bill that modifies the existing system to accommodate independent candidates in national and provincial elections.
BALANCING ACT Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has tabled a bill that modifies the existing system to accommodate independent candidates in national and provincial elections.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Ho ho ho! Christmas is around the corner, and as for me I’m so oh oh tired of political parties.

The ANC is now a party of opposing factions that greatly despise one another, held together by the patronage it still dispenses. The governing party heads to a national elective conference at the end of 2022, and the sooner it splits in two, the better.

The DA acts for minority interests and is only interested in governing in the Western Cape. Ironically, it’s stuck with a poisoned chalice handed to it by the EFF and ActionSA. Good luck to Dr Mpho Phalatse trying to turn around a dysfunctional Joburg, when she cannot even string a mayoral committee together. The CBD is a big rubbish dump, home to petty criminals and lawless taxis.

The EFF knows it can’t grow bigger than 10%, so the best it can do is wait on the sidelines to make someone else king. But be afraid of these ones; if in 2024 the ANC falls below 50%, Malema and co could decide your next president. Watch a desperate ANC accede to the EFF’s absurd land expropriation demands in 2024, to keep the country. There goes the economy.

The IFP needs to emerge out of Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s lingering shadow.

A surprising package is the Freedom Front Plus. It has all but given up on the fantasy of a volkstad, focusing instead on conservative Afrikaners in big cities, secondary towns and farms, and happily collecting votes. Its impressive performance in this niche market has spooked the DA back into a racial laager.

I’ll only take Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA seriously if it can grow beyond Joburg and survive internal ructions. Already, after its decent performance in November, we read reports of infighting in its ranks over councillor positions. COPE and Agang SA both began with promising noises but were stumped by fighting over electoral spoils.

The EFF knows it can’t grow bigger than 10%, so the best it can do is wait on the sidelines to make someone else king.

I have very little to say about smaller political parties. They are a waste. The biggest disappointments are the ones on the left of the ANC with impeccable struggle credentials. Each time I read or hear of the PAC or Azapo, there’s a fight over a leadership post, parliamentary seat or whatever crumb is on the floor. 

Given the sad state of party politics, I’m glad we are finally discussing the maturing of our electoral politics beyond them.

On my desk as I type this, is a copy of the Electoral Amendment Bill, an important piece of proposed legislation, that will for the first time make it possible for you and I to choose the best among us to represent us instead of entrusting this to political parties alone.

Government has been resisting electoral reform for years. Panel reports drafted by eminent people, including the late Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert and ex-president Kgalema Motlanthe, proposing changes in the electoral system to make it possible for the public to directly choose some of their representatives to parliament have been gathering dust.

Now don’t think for a second that government suddenly had a change of heart. Not quite; it’s being kicked and dragged into the light by the Constitutional Court.

In June last year the apex court ruled the Electoral Act unconstitutional, in as far as it required citizens to be elected to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures through closed party lists. The court directed parliament to rectify SA’s electoral law within 24 months. This judgment followed a challenge by the New Nation Movement and others, who contested provisions limiting independent candidates from being directly elected.

The impressive performance by the Freedom Front Plus in the niche market of conservative Afrikaners has spooked the DA back into a racial laager.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi commissioned a panel chaired by Valli Moosa, who served as constitutional affairs minister in the first Mandela administration, to advise him on how best to give effect to the judgment. The panel gave him two options, one of which he accepted and now finds its way in the bill before parliament.

Motsoaledi didn’t go with my preferred option, which combines first-past-the-post and proportional representation into a mixed member system, closely resembling the current local government system. This would have meant at least half of our future MPs are chosen directly by their constituencies.

Instead they went with the option that modifies the existing system to accommodate independent candidates in national and provincial elections, without too many changes to current legislation.

Either way, the inclusion of independent candidates is not good news for political parties. It transfers some of the choice of public representatives directly to you the voter instead of this being monopolised them.

In 2024 — with this system in place — many of these one-seat parties that made the National Assembly by benefiting from IEC consolidating votes cast in different constituencies into one pot, will be wiped off. Also, the introduction of independent candidates in parliament makes future national coalitions a more distinct possibility.

Our Santa Claus, the ConCourt, has made the gift of electoral change possible and irreversible. Parliament must package and deliver this gift by next Christmas.

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