Will independent candidates benefit or challenge SA’s constitutional democracy in 2024 elections?

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Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signing of the Electoral Amendment Bill of 2022 into law, independent candidates are now allowed to participate in national and provincial elections. Will this move be a benefit or challenge for SA’s constitutional democracy and the value of elections?

A number of organisations have spoken out against the recent Electoral Amendment Bill, claiming that it is unjust to independent candidates. For the newly formed political party Rise Mzansi, next year’s national elections will be a watershed moment for the country.

“When we say 2024 is our 1994, what we are saying is we are at an inflection point. We are in a deep crisis. The politics are broken, the economy, almost every single aspect of SA life is broken and if we don’t avert this continued crisis, we are not going to get out of this mess,” explains Rise Mzansi Spokesperson Tebogo Moalusi.

VIDEO: New political party, Rise Mzansi, aims to overhaul the SA’s political system 

Constitutional law expert Lawson Naidoo says the Bill in its current form will only disadvantage the electorate, who he believes were not adequately involved in the public participation process.

“It creates an electoral system that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. It is a unique system that seems to have been developed specifically to accommodate the judgment of the constitutional court in the case in 2020 by permitting independent candidates to contest elections without making any changes to the current system that we have in place. I think the way that has been done is less than ideal. It doesn’t create what I refer to as a fit-for-purpose electoral system that we need here in SA,” says Naidoo.

The New Nation Movement has expressed its concerns saying voters are being placed in a trap.

“As the citizens of this country, we are in a fundamental trap. We, as citizens at best, have been rendered as voting pawns to merely put our cross next to a political party, which then decides which candidates to deploy to represent us at the provincial and national legislatures. More importantly, there isn’t any mechanism to recall those representatives in the event that they fail their oath and fail in governing us. The last straw in the electoral process up to now was cast when the president endorsed the bill that parliament presented to him,” says the Director of the New Nation Movement Matshepiso Finca.

Matshepiso Finca and Nkosikhulule Nyembezi weigh in on the signing of Electoral Amendment Bill: 

The Independent Candidates Association (ICA) says the only way to seek justice for independent candidates is to test the Electoral Amendment Act in the Constitutional Court.

“This goes about equality before the law. This goes about dignity. This is about the power of the vote. It’s the most important thing for our people. So, as a result, we believe that the Electoral Act as it’s now signed by the President is unconstitutional. It doesn’t fulfil the constitutional provisions in general proportionality. There are wasted votes. We believe the issue of vacancies and aggravation of votes. The system is wrong; you cannot put an individual against a political party. The system was wrong from the beginning, so we hope that we will get justice from the constitutional court, we believe that the only way we going to see justice in this nation is that this Bill gets tested by the Constitutional Court that all of us know there’s credibility,” says ICA chairperson Dr Michael Louis.

Build One South Africa leader, Mmusi Maimane says the amendments to the electoral act go against the June 2020 Concourt judgment that was delivered by Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga.

“What is of crucial nature when you look at the nature of politics is that again we are taking power away from the people and leaving it with political parties? We are simply saying parties can dictate to people who their candidates are. We are saying ultimately that people should never know their candidates in an election,” says Maimane.

Labour Federation Cosatu says it’s important that the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) and Home Affairs now put all the necessary measures and resources in place to ensure that the 2024 general elections take place smoothly. Cosatu says training of political parties and aspirant independent candidates is also necessary.

The battle over the bill’s constitutionality is now unfolding, with threats to challenge the Electoral Amendment Act in the courts. The tussle is about the allocation of seats, the number of signatures for independent candidates needed and insufficient public participation on the bill.

The newly assented Electoral Amendment Act means that the IEC will hold the 2024 Elections under different circumstances which will include the inclusion of a list of independent candidates entitled to contest elections and a revised formula for the allocation of seats and their re-allocation in the event of vacated seats.

The IEC says it is ready to implement changes as set in the new Act and preparations for the 2024 elections are underway.

 VIDEO: IEC welcomes the amended Electoral Act: Sy Mamabolo

The first registration weekend for the 2024 elections is set to take place on 18 and 19 November 2023.