Instant blowback for South Africa’s new election laws

 ·18 Apr 2023

Civil action groups are concerned about the constitutionality of new election laws that President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed in South Africa.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said that even though the Electoral Amendment Bill has been signed into law, there are still concerns that have not been resolved.

Ramaphosa signed the bill into law this week following a constitutional court judgment in 2020 that stipulated that the previous electoral act was unconstitutional because it only allowed political party members to run for elections in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

The amended Electoral Act now allows independent candidates to also run for these elections.

“The Electoral Amendment Bill marks a significant milestone in the evolution of our democracy by expanding electoral participation and widening the pool of leadership choice for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.”

“The bill presents a development that can only enrich and sustain our growing constitutional democracy,” Ramaphosa said.

However, Outa believes that the new Act affects the fairness, transparency and accountability of the electoral system.

Rachel Fischer, Outa’s parliamentary engagement and research manager, said that some of the concerns relating to the new Act include:

  • Proportionality will be affected due to the three-ballot system – two ballots for the National Assembly and one ballot for the relevant provincial legislature.
  • The fact that independent candidates can only contest 200 seats in the National Assembly and not the other 200 compensatory seats
  • All the waster votes that will occur
  • Independent candidates can only win one seat in the National Assembly once votes equal to the seat quota are met. All excess votes are discarded.
  • Solutions for vacancies due to the resignation or passing of an MP are not clear

The group added that barriers remain for candidates wanting to run for parliament.

“For instance, independents require signatures equal to 15% of the quota of votes required for a seat in the previous elections in order to qualify for the election, which is roughly 6,000 signatures,” said Outa.

Outa added that the consultation panel where concerns regarding the Act are to be posed must consist of individuals who are unbiased and have expertise in the field – alongside a sufficient representation of civil society.

Fischer said it is unfortunate that the first opportunity presented by the Constitutional Court judgment in June 2020, which declared that sections of the Electoral Act were unconstitutional and overturned them, was not used to its full potential.

Outa said it is important for independent candidates to be recognised by the law as they “are more answerable to their voters as they face a real likelihood of being voted out if they fail to honour election promises.”

Throughout its parliamentary process to become law, there were extensions and delays relating to constant deliberations and public input meetings since its introduction in June 2020.

Outa was not alone in pointing out issues with the original bill; Solidarity, Build One South Africa, and the Legal Resources Centre all pointed to the bill being unfair and unjust.

Read: Ramaphosa signs new election changes into law

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