Reflections on the state of Electoral Democracy in South Africa Brief overview of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Conference proceedings by Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP (President of the United Democratic Movement (7 December 2007 ) A follow-up meeting of political parties on 8 December 2007 at the Burgers Park Hotel (Pretoria/Tshwane, Gauteng)

Master of Ceremony, leaders of different political parties, ladies and gentlemen; I feel honoured to address this meeting at the very critical time in the history of our country. First of all I must welcome you to this meeting and say, feel free as this was only co-ordinated by the UDM at your request.

Secondly, I consider it imperative to at least give a brief overview of what transpired in Bryanston on 8 – 10 October 2007 as a means of refreshing our memories.

We have, since 1994, been striving to develop a system of democracy that will best address the imbalances of the past regimes that created deep divisions among societies in our country. This then meant that we should look for a democratic system that will be an embodiment of standards, ethical norms and values of our society. The adoption of any democratic system of government is therefore preceded by the identification of an electoral system that will best address the requirements of such a democratic system of government.

It is therefore upon such realisation that the imperative of constant evaluation of any electoral or system of governance is essential.

The International Conference on Sustaining Africa’s Democratic Momentum held on 5-7 March 2007 at the Sandton Convention Centre here in South Africa continuously emphasised the importance of sufficient political parties representation in all organs of the state where their direct participation, as real stakeholders, would ensure and enhance high levels of transparency and accountability with high levels of authority. It was in this same conference that the African Union (AU) Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and other international electoral commissions were identified as sources of reference for the evaluation of electoral democracy. The text of the AU Charter should therefore encompass all ethical values considered essential for the effective and efficient running of any state. This led to a conclusion that a country should not be seen to be fit for democracy but should be fit through democracy.

This conference culminated to the IEC Conference held in Bryanston on 8 – 10 October 2007 in which a multitude of topics were discussed but unfortunately no resolutions were taken there anent.

Let me then quickly give a schematic presentation of what transpired.

We dealt with theories, concepts and democratic practices and the development of electoral systems. Under this topic it became clear that almost everybody agreed that all systems of democracy have their advantages and disadvantages and therefore a constant review to keep pace with economic, social, cultural etc. developments is necessary. This topic was tied up neatly with that of nexus of democracy and development in South Africa. The tendency of each one influencing the other called for close scrutiny of factors that influence both democratic and developmental principles. The question was what role political parties should play in ensuring that the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution are converted into good strategic developmental principles that would create more economic viability of the state. “States are permanent structures of nations whilst governments come and go.” The legal, administrative and structural enabling factors of governments should therefore be put under constant review by all political parties. This will help maintain a balance of activity between government and the masses of our people. Political parties, especially opposition parties, should play, very prominently, their watchdog roles.

Concerning floor-crossing, all parties, including those who are the offspring of floor-crossing, supported the scrapping of the enabling legislation. It was also clear that floor-crossing could not be seen as a vehicle of entrenching electoral democracy. Only coalitions and alliances can possibly serve as safeguards of electoral democracy against one-party dominance.

The big question was to what extent are electoral management bodies developing the professional experience and capacity, the resources and the independence from executive branch control to administer elections fairly, impartially and competently. We must recognise that internationally such bodies are composed at board-level of representatives from and endorsed by all political parties, unlike the current situation here where the ruling party uses its parliamentary majority to nominate the candidates that it prefers. This topic called for thorough examination of the effectiveness of the IEC and its level of independence.

The debates further revealed that as long as the IEC has to depend on the Ministry of Home Affairs for its budget and Cabinet approval, its independence would be compromised. The question was then how do we overcome this so as to ensure full representativity of all parties in IEC structures to guarantee transparency, as well as free and fair elections.

The other challenge which currently faces us with regards to the IEC is that it still remains vulnerable to political manipulations that may compromise its independence. The case in point is the integration of municipal electoral officials into political bodies, in the form of partisan municipalities, thus potentially compromising their independence.

Some of the political parties were equally concerned about the appointments of Cosatu affiliate, namely Sadtu, as presiding officers during elections. They made it clear that it does not need a high level of intellectual ability for one to know that Cosatu and all its affiliates support the ANC and as such have a moral obligation to safeguard their master. It was the feeling of some parties that the appointment of presiding officers and staff should be reviewed.

The independence of the IEC is therefore one of the crucial topics of today’s meeting.

On party funding it became clear that the current formula of fund distribution of 90% proportionally-based and 10% equitable does not provide for the growth of all political parties but benefits only one party. It was the feeling of most parties that 50% be equity and 50% be on proportional representation basis.

The creation of platforms for participation by individuals in electoral democracy was also a subject of concern as it was felt that people on the ground are sidelined. The electoral structures seem to give instructions instead of giving guidelines and processes. It is at this level that it was suggested that multi-partism needs to be demonstrated by all political parties. This approach will ensure strict adherence to democratic principles and render the country fit through democracy and not just fit for democracy.

The role of the media before, during and after elections was discussed extensively as it appeared to be the view of almost all political parties that the state controlled media (SABC) seems to favour the ruling party. It was suggested that the IEC should have a special channel that will deal specifically with electoral issues on party building. This would ensure equal treatment of all parties as they will all be given equal time slots. This notion was taken further to address the current proportional time allocation for public representatives in Parliament, legislatures and councils. Most of the political parties agreed that the playing field is not level when it comes to access to state controlled media. A classical example sited was the live coverage of the ANC’s launch of its manifesto in the 2004 election, as well as the live coverage of their closing rally called “Siyanqoba”. Indeed most of us here present will recall that, in the 2004 election, we were give only four minutes each on the SABC’s Morning Live TV programme to present our manifestos. This is considered too prejudicial for the development of democracy in this country.

On inter- and intra-party democracy it was suggested that parties should ensure that democracy is practised within their party structures. It was argued that most parties are victims of their own failures to ensure internal application of democratic principles and values. If practiced properly it can ramify all structures of society including government structures.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to say many thanks for the confidence you have shown in us to co-ordinate this very important meeting. I hope, we will come up with concrete resolutions that will help take the electoral democratic system and processes of this country to a level where all of us will feel proud of our country and its Constitution.

Thank you

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