Court orders amendment of South Africa’s Electoral Act to allow independent candidates to contest - AFRICAN PARLIAMENTARY NEWS



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Friday, June 12, 2020

Court orders amendment of South Africa’s Electoral Act to allow independent candidates to contest

South Africa’s Constitutional Court has declared that the country’s Electoral Act which does not allow citizens to be elected to the national and provincial legislatures as independent candidates is unconstitutional
Under the current the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 only political parties are allowed to contest in the country’s national and provincial elections.
However, in a judgment handed down on Thursday (11 June), the Court held that it could conceive any reason to justify the limitation on participation by independent candidates and accordingly declared the electoral act unconstitutional.
The case was brought by civil society group the New Nation Movement, which argued that the Act infringes on the right to exercise individual political choices.
“A conscious choice not to form or join a political party is as much of a political choice as is the choice to form or join a political party, and must equally be deserving of Constitutional protection,” said the Court.
“Once an adult citizen is forced to exercise the S19 (3) (b) right to stand for public office through a political party, that diverts her or him of the very choice guaranteed to him not to join or form a political party. That cannot be.”
The court however, suspended the judgment for 24 months to give the parliament time to make the necessary amendments.
Pundits believe that enabling independent candidates to contest provincial and national elections would change various aspects of South Africa’s life. For instance, the ability of independent candidates to stand in national elections offers a wide choice that could entice apathetic eligible voters into the electoral process and attract others away from established parties. The primacy of individuals over parties, however, might also weaken associational life built upon civic values in favour of divisive identities.
It would be recalled that the controversy over South Africa’s electoral system coincided with the election of Jacob Zuma as president in 2009. Zuma who was implicated in corruption allegations and fresh from a rape acquittal, presented a perfect picture of notoriety.
Political analysts believe that the governing African National Congress’s (ANC’s) reaction to public disapproval of Zuma, and its consequent misuse of its parliamentary majority to stifle law enforcement agencies, turned popular opinion against the proportional representation system. “The ANC showed how powerless voters were under the system. It was also arrogant to the point of offending public sensibilities” noted an observer.
Without doubt, Zuma’s subsequent misconduct emboldened popular sentiment in favour of voters directly electing their own government leaders. The rest is now history.

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