Proposed changes to elections in South Africa

 ·28 Aug 2020

Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota has published an explanation of the new Electoral Laws Amendment Bill which he plans to table in parliament.

Lekota said that the primary aim of the bill is to give effect to the June 2020 Constitutional Court ruling which found that the country’s Electoral Act is unconstitutional as it does not provide for adult citizens to be elected to the National and Provincial Legislatures as independent candidates.

He said that under the current party system, voters are ‘estranged’ because a direct relationship with a member of parliament is absent and a lack of accountability of members of the relevant legislatures to its voters prevails.

“The increasing and continuing alienation of voters from the political system is detrimental to democracy and the well-being of society at large,” he said.

Lekota said the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill seeks to address the Constitutional Court judgement by amending existing electoral legislation to make provision for independent candidates to stand for public office in provincial and national elections, without requiring such candidate to be a member of a particular political party.

“It will also provide for a legislative mechanism to allow independent candidates to stand for election and allowing elections to happen in constituencies that align with districts using the ‘open list’ proportional representation, which will best serve the interests of every South African and most particularly those who have remained marginalised, neglected and increasingly alienated from the politics of the day,” he said.

Lekota said the bill will amend existing legislation:

  • The Electoral Commission Act, 1996 (Act No. 51 of 1996), to provide for, and to regulate, the registration of independent candidates;
  • The Electoral Act, to:
    • Give full effect to section 19(3)(b) of the Constitution, which provides that every South African citizen has the fundamental right to stand for public office and, if elected, to hold office;
    • Ensure that individuals can stand for office as independent candidates without having to stand for office by virtue of his or her membership of a political party;
    • Provide for the creation of constituencies along current district boundary lines and the replacement of the “closed list” proportional representation system with the “open list” proportional representation system with greater requirements for all candidates to uphold the Constitution and to give impetus to the realisation of the Bill of Rights; and
    • Promote democratic governance and electoral accountability.
  • Any other relevant legislation, to:
    • Provide for independent candidates to participate in election broadcasts and political advertisements on an equitable basis with political parties;
    • Provide for independent candidates to receive financial and administrative assistance to enable them to perform their functions effectively; and
    • Provide for related and other consequential matters.


Lekota said that argument for combining proportionality with constituency representation is ‘overwhelming’.  “Only persons have the capability of representing voters in a granular manner, not political parties,” he said.

To achieve this personal association with a public representative, each of South Africa’s current fifty-two districts could, as per their population size, serve as a larger or smaller multi-member constituency which could be contested by individuals as well as political parties through an “open list” proportional representation system, he said.

“At present, most districts in South Africa are failing dismally and serially with local government being in a perpetual and lamentable crisis,” he said. “With a district becoming a constituency, a scaffolding of political representation becomes immediately possible in each district.”

Each district, therefore, will have councillors as well as dedicated representatives serving in the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures as well, he said.

“The constitutional requirement for inter-governmental cooperation will also be meaningfully enhanced in this way at once.”

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