ConCourt ruling on Electoral Act means parties will have to shape up - NNM

The Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that the Electoral Act was unconstitutional to the extent that it required South Africans to only contest the polls through the membership of political parties.

FILE: The Constitutional Court. Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The applicants who took on the legal battle over the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Act on Thursday said democracy was the winner in the matter.

The Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that the act was unconstitutional to the extent that it required South Africans to only contest the polls through the membership of political parties.

The judgment was described as a game-changer in the country’s politics, although the National Assembly would still get to elect a president from among its members as is currently set in law.

The New Nation Movement (NNM), Chantal Dawn, GRO, and the Indigenous First Nation Advocacy first took the matter to court in 2018 arguing that the individual’s rights to stand for public office were unjustifiably limited by the current electoral system.

The NNM’s Bulelani Mkhohliswa said the ruling changed many aspects of the country’s political life, saying while it paved the way for independent candidates to contest national and provincial elections, it would also force political parties to shape up.

“Even the political parties themselves are going to shape up to a certain degree. They’re forced to say ‘how do we retain and maintain our relevance’,” Mkhohliswa said.

Their argument at various courts, as justified by the apex court on Thursday, said that the current system was in contravention of their right to association by only allowing political party members to be eligible for election.

Mkhohliswa added that the decision of the court could even see more people taking to the polls.

“We believe that maybe many South Africans that did not see the need to vote will want to go and vote,” he said.

Parliament was given two years to make the necessary constitutional amendments, which meant the court order was suspended until then.

‘CONCOURT RULING LONG OVERDUE’

Meanwhile, experts said the Constitutional Court’s judgment was long overdue.

Analysts said South Africa had been in need of electoral reform for years, citing the findings of the 2003 Cabinet commissioned task team report into the matter, which concluded that there was a need for changes, bu they were never implemented.

Independent analyst Tessa Dooms said the two-year suspension of the Constitutional Court order would allow the country to interrogate its electoral system.

However, Dooms warned that in other countries on the continent where independent candidates could contest, political parties still had a stronghold due to their liberation movement roots.

“And even in contests like Kenya or Uganda, you have the ability to vote directly for the president or your members of Parliament. Often those MPs still go into the party system in order to use the party’s machinery,” she said.

But there were some, like constitutional expert Michael Osborne, who had questioned whether the decision would not open a can of worms as political parties were assumed to have a discipline that was enshrined in their constitutions.

While citizens would in the future get to contest independently for seats as members of Parliament and provincial legislatures, the election of a president was, however, still up to the National Assembly.

Read the Constitutional Court judgment below:

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