Court extends the timeframe for passage of an amended bill

The controversial Electoral Amendment Bill will not be finalized until February 28, the Constitutional Court has decided.

Parliament then petitioned the supreme court with an urgent request for an extension until December 2022. Previously, the court determined that the Electoral Act was unconstitutional because it prohibited candidates from running for political office if they were not members of a political party.

In a statement released on Monday, parliament spokeswoman Moloto Mothapo stated, “In June 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Electoral Act was unconstitutional inasmuch as it prohibits candidates from running for political office unless they are members of political parties.

“The court stayed its judgement for two years and gave parliament until 10 June 2022 to fix the constitutional flaws in the act and allow independent candidates to run for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

“In December, the parliament submitted an emergency plea to the Constitutional Court demanding an extension to finalize the measure, from 10 December 2022 to 28 February.

“The apex court then issued an interim order to further extend the deadline for its declaration of invalidity order for the Electoral Act until January 31, allowing it more time to consider the request to extend the deadline to February 28, allowing the legislature to finalize the bill that seeks to amend the act.

“On Friday, January 20, the court agreed to extend the suspension of its invalidity order from December 10, 2022 to February 28, 2023,” per the report.

In June 2022, the National Assembly deliberated on the amendment bill, which was passed with 232 in favor and 98 opposed. Three legislators refrained from voting.

The very contentious amendment bill allows independent candidates to compete in regional and national elections. Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi introduced it to parliament on January 10, 2022, and it was published for public discussion on January 21.

“The bill was necessitated by the June 2020 decision of the Constitutional Court in the New Nation Movement NPC and Others vs. President of the Republic of South Africa and Others case, which ruled that the Electoral Act of 1998 was unconstitutional insofar as it mandated that adult citizens could only be elected to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures through their membership in political parties.

“The primary purpose of the bill is to include specific definitions deemed significant to the expansion of the statute to allow independent candidates as contestants in elections for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

Mothapo stated at the time, “It seeks to provide for the nomination of independent candidates to contest elections in the National Assembly or provincial legislatures, as well as the requirements and qualifications that must be met by those who wish to be registered as independent candidates.”

However, civil society organizations opposed the bill in its current form on the grounds that it imposes discriminatory eligibility requirements on independent candidates. The organizations appeared prepared to sue the government to reverse the decision to pass the bill.

The SA Council of Churches (SACC) was one of the parties that opposed the bill, along with independent political parties such as the recently created Build One SA (BOSA).

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the SACC, stated that the measure, which is intended to introduce reforms to the country’s election system, is dubious and unjust.

He asserted that the proposed amendments would be oppressive to independent candidates and would divert the law from its primary purpose of granting equal rights to all voters.

Mpumlwana stated that parliament is responsible for amending the unconstitutionality of the current election system, which “does not do justice to independents and those who will vote for them.”

“Parliament was charged in June 2020 with amending the unconstitutionality of the current electoral system in a manner that would eliminate the requirement of political party membership in order to run for public office,” he stated.

“Independent candidates are forced to compete unfairly with political parties for votes, and under this system they stand to lose the influence of votes above and beyond the minimum required for a seat.

“If a parliamentary seat is worth 50,000 votes and an independent candidate receives 500,000 votes, only 50,000 votes will count and the remaining 450,0000 ballots will be discarded. However, a political party with the same number of votes will not lose any votes and will register 10 representatives. On this basis alone, passing the law would be an affront to justice.”

The bill, according to Mudzuli Rakhivhane, the BOSA spokeswoman at the time, is unconstitutional and faulty.

She stated that a new election system is required to attract and accommodate talented young people who will reform the country’s government in order for it to flourish.

There are at least four reasons why this bill is illogical, unjust, and unconstitutional. Rakhivhane mentioned the discarding of surplus votes, the limitation of independent candidates to half the seats in parliament, the imposition of onerous threshold conditions for independents to run for office, and the issue of when vacancies in parliament occur due to resignation or death.

“We need a new voting system that will encourage youth participation in democratic dialogue. Numerous challenges confront the nation, requiring new voices and acts to resolve them.

If South Africa is to develop and prosper, a new electoral system that increases accountability, attracts knowledge and talent, and improves governance is urgently necessary.