Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs says it aims to finalise its work on the Electoral Amendment Bill before the State of the Nation Address (Sona).
Members of the committee met with officials from the Department of Home Affairs and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on Thursday, to deliberate on the bill.
- Advertisement -
This followed the Constitutional Court’s (ConCourt) ruling to grant Parliament another extension to the deadline it set for legislation.
The deadline was extended to 28 February in order to allow for more input from the public on the bill.
This round of public participation comes after the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) proposed further amendments to the bill.
NCOP’s deliberations addressed the disparity between party candidates and independent candidates as the bill currently had required independent candidates to produce signatures supporting their candidature totalling 20% of the quota for a seat in the previous comparable election.
But now the legislation requires both parties, who are registered but not represented in the National Assembly (regions) or provincial legislatures, and candidates to produce the same amount of signatures in support of their contestation of the election.
- Advertisement -
According to the bill, independent candidates are required to gather signatures as well as their identity numbers of voters who support the candidate to stand for elections and are required to pay a deposit.
Watch the meeting below:
During Thursday’s meeting, Counsel for the Department of Home Affairs maintained that the signature requirement could be too high.
“Of course, Parliament has adopted the signature requirement and the way I think we can look at it is as a sort of proof of concept. To say that before you can contest an election, you have got to demonstrate that you have some kind of support that you have a chance to actually get a seat in the National Assembly or provincial legislature concerned.
- Advertisement -
“We have to strike a balance… we can’t preclude people from participating unjustifiably, but on the other hand we have got to make sure that the person contesting elections is serious about it,” advocate Mitchell de Beer told the committee.
De Beer suggested that the 20% quota be lowered to 15%.
“Ultimately, Parliament is the body that’s going to make a choice about how to determine that requirement. The initial bill suggested that the [IEC] be empowered to prescribe this requirement and that’s not what Parliament has chosen. They have instead chosen to adopt a percentage of the previous quota or a seat in the relevant election or legislature to demonstrate support.
ALSO READ: 2024 polls could be delayed as legal action looms against Electoral Amendment Bill
“It is constitutionally permissible for Parliament to do so and they landed at 20%. In previous advice we had spoken about, we have used a quota of approximately 44 000 votes for seat [in the National Assembly] and that worked out at around 8 800 signatures if one use 20% as the number. There were some comments received that the quota may not be that low instead it may be higher for the regional seats. It may be more in the region of 80 000 votes per seat,” he explained.
“We have also expressed the view that if Parliament is concerned that 20% is too high, it may consider reducing it to 15%, but that is the National Assembly and committee’s decision to decide.”
In legal opinion, De Beer and advocate Steven Budlender previously indicated that it would be more difficult for an independent candidate to satisfy the eligibility requirement for each and every election, than it would be for a political party to register with the IEC for any election.
IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo told the committee that the issue of the quotas was addressed by the commission.
“This regional quotas based on the 2019 [election] results were presented to the Portfolio Committee on 5th of July 2022, and we gave a range of what signature requirement would be at 50%, 30%, 20% and 15%. The committee then exercised a preference determined the threshold at 20%. That’s a factual matter that we wanted to place before the committee,” he said.
Mamabolo also explained why the IEC suggested to NCOP address to the gap between party candidates and independent candidates regarding signature requirements.
RELATED: Electoral Amendment Bill: Parliament deliberates key issues
“One of the submissions takes issue with the fact that in the NCOP, we had made a preposition that the same signature requirement must apply to unrepresented political parties. This was not to bring a policy preposition on the table, but it was rather to propose the extension of a policy preposition and make it applicable across all electoral contestants in order to realise the parity of treatment.”
Parliament’s legal services department said it was of the view that the process followed by the committee in determining the signature requirement as well as the decision taken reasonable.
“However, the IEC as experts on the practicality of garnering signatures, is best placed to advise the committee if a requirement of 20% will result in unfairness in practice,” Parliamentary Legal Advisor Telana Halley-Starkey told the committee.
‘We have no time’
Home Affairs Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi warned against reducing the threshold to 15% saying this might require further public submissions.
“I would urge the committee to stay away from that because simply we have no time and I don’t see us going to the Constitutional Court again nor it is desirable. The more we delay the passing of this bill the more we are disadvantaging the IEC to prepare free and fair elections,” he said.
Halley-Starkey, however, disputed this.
“We are of the opinion that it wouldn’t require re-advertisement because this is not an amendment that is affecting a new category of people. We would like however, to take this question back to our senior in our unit just to discuss it further and we will get back to the committee[next week],” she said.
Meanwhile, Motsoaledi also urged the committee to resolve the issue of independent candidates’ vacancies.
READ MORE: Panel required to submit report on electoral reform a year after 2024 polls
“The argument that a seat that was held by an independent should go to another independent and political parties must not contest assumes – that independent won the seats for other independents. We have never done so.
“The independents must contest with the political parties. The vacated seats of independents must be contested. It does not go to a group that belongs only to independent candidates.”
The committee is looking to adopt the amendments to the bill before President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the 2023 Sona, which will take place on 9 February.
“Also give time to the president to look at the bill,” the committee’s chairperson Mosa Steve Chabane said.
The National Assembly has to debate and vote on the bill once adopted by the committee, thereafter, it will be sent to Ramaphosa for approval.
The committee is set to meet again on Tuesday for further deliberations.