UNITED DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT (UDM)
SUBMISSION TO THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON HOME AFFAIRS: DRAFT ELECTORAL BILL
The UDM has several recommendations concerning the proposed Electoral Bill Firstly, however, the party would like to express its reservations with regard to the general administration of the process up to this point in time. The draft Bill makes reference continuously to both an election timetable, and specific regulations necessary for the administration of the Electoral Bill, and the administration of the whole process leading up to the coming election. It is the opinion of this party that the whole process is being neglected, since the timetable is revised on a continuing basis (whilst the lEC still cannot keep to the dates they set themselves) and as for the regulations these are not forthcoming. In fact many of the regulations that are proposed in the Bill is in fact now being referred to Parliament, we believe that this is in clear contradiction with 'the powers, duties and functions of the IEC (as set out in paragraph 5, chapter 2 of the Electoral Commission Act, no 51 of 1996). Not only does it appear that the IEC is shrugging off its mandated responsibilities, the very absence of all the regulations mean that it is virtually impossible for anybody to make any real comments on this proposed Bill.
We request that serious consideration be given to have Parliament force the IEC to publish all the necessary regulations, as well as an election timetable. From that moment onwards the IEC will have to keep to that timetable. In the interests of free and fair elections, we believe that this is a matter of extreme urgency. Nevertheless, the UDM understand the strain under which the IEC is working, especially the effect of receiving only half of the funds that was requested. It would therefore be prudent if the matter of funding is revisited, since it cannot be denied that, however little money government has at present, we can ill afford to neglect elections in a democracy as young as ours.
POLITICAL ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED
Judge Kriegler has pointed out several political issues that need to be resolved by Parliament, presumably 'by Parliament' is meant to be 'by the Parliamentary committee'? The UDM therefore submit its comments on the Electoral Bill with regard to these issues that were identified by Judge Kriegler.
1. PERMANENT RESIDENCE
The UDM is not in favour of permanent residents, meaning people who have not yet attained citizenship, being allowed to vote. Article 19 of the Bill of Rights is quite clear on its repeated use of the word 'citizen' when referring to political rights.
2. WHO IS NOT ENTITLED TO VOTE?
1. The UDM supports the notion that persons who are unsound of mind are
disqualified from voting, in correspondence with internationally accepted norms and values.
2. The UDM cannot agree with the suggestion that citizens outside the borders of South Africa, with the exclusion of those in the service of the state, will not be allowed to vote. Such a measure would not only mean contravening the political rights enshrined in the constitution, but would also boil down to favoritism by allowing those in service of the state to vote, whilst disqualifying others simply because they are not servants of the government.
3. It is also necessary, in our opinion, that clarification be attained on the matter of who is allowed to vote The reason why we feel obliged to request such a clarification is due to the Ministry of Home Affairs' inability to provide all the citizens of South Africa with the new Identity Document, whilst this proposed Bill requires exactly this very same document for a citizen to be eligible to vote. Apparently, as a concession, the old 'blue' ID document will now be allowed, but not other documents. Our complaint is that it is exactly those people who carry the disallowed 'homeland' ID document which have been most neglected by the lack of delivery of Home Affairs.
4. We have to express our most deepest disgust and horror that a commission mandated to protect democracy (as well as free and fair elections), would even consider proposing, in a bill, that literally millions of voters should be deprived of their constitutional right to vote on the grounds of an administrative measure. What it boils down to, in fact, is punishing a certain group of citizens for being the unfortunate ones that were neglected by Home Affairs. The constitution clearly states that all citizens are equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship.
The UDM suggests that special provision be made, in the form of a special vote, for registered voters who (due to whatever circumstances, e.g. Business, leisure etc.) are unable to vote on election day in their constituencies.
The issue of a special vote does not end there, either. It seems that no provision has been made for those who will not be at the voting stations, or even their constituencies, due to certain responsibilities (e.g. Police officers, hospital staff, paramedics as well as fire-fighters and other essential service providers) or those who are incapacitated (the disabled, hospitalized people and the elderly). We request that the issue of special voting should take into consideration these voters.
It is difficult to comment at this stage on the issue of prisoners voting, since the IEC has declined to formulate its own recommendation on the matter. However, the IEC has indicated that it is 'not in support of all prisoners voting'. On this matter the UDM believes that prisoners should be allowed to vote, and that all prisoners should be treated equally. Even if it is decided that they should be deprived of their right to vote, one cannot impose a discriminatory measure that allows only certain prisoners the right. Is the implication then that some crimes are acceptable and others not?
The UDM recommends that a commission, perhaps a party liaison committee, should be established to investigate the matter, since this is such a sensitive issue.
4. REGISTRATION OF VOTERS
On this matter especially, the UDM is of the Opinion that the IEC must keep to the set time-frames, in order to protect the legitimacy of the process.
We request that immediate clarification be given on the Voting (and registration) procedure for the party agents, since they cannot perform both their duty as agent, and vote (or register) simultaneously. Thus we request that the IEC either formulate regulations regarding this matter, or preferably that the regulations be formalised within the Bill itself.
At this stage it would appear that the IEC is not willing to accept the full range of responsibilities assigned to it, with regard the registration of voters. Although the UDM recognizes the financial, logistical and administrative burdens placed upon the IEC, we strongly believe that no other body can be given the responsibility of voter registration. All the more reason why the issue of IEC funding should be revisited.
We believe that the registration of voters cannot be neglected, since it forms the foundation on which the elections will be conducted. It would be delusional to think that if the focus of the entire process is on the elections themselves, the interests of democracy will have been served. It must borne in mind that free and fair elections will not be achieved without an accurate, and recently updated, voters' roll.
Thus accepting that the IEC is the entity responsible for the registration of voters, we recommend that Parliament (and not a Parliamentary committee per se) should mandate the IEC to set a target date for, preferably before, the end of 1998 to complete the voter registration. In this regard the Bill should perhaps be amended to specify that the IEC must have all the necessary regulations (and associated information) published six months before the date the elections are expected to take place. Parliament should also hold the IEC to the date that is set for the sake of democracy, further delays and postponement can not be tolerated (as Judge Kriegler said himself, in his address to the Council of Provinces).
Furthermore the IEC requests that the 'how' of the registration process should be decided upon. We believe that the IEC should implement its own proposal (accompanying the draft Bill, presented to the minister of Home Affairs on the 29th of April), which stipulates that registration should take place at the voting stations where the voters will have to vote during the elections. As the IEC correctly points out in this proposal, it would give both the commission and the voters valuable experience with regard to the coming election. We believe that it is specifically in this regard that the IEC may need more funds.
5. VOTING DAY
We agree with the IEC that the voting should take place on a single day, especially since the number of voters per voting station should not present any logistical problems. Provided however, that the concept of a voting day being a national holiday is applied, because many voters (especially in the rural areas) have to travel great distances to their voting stations.
Our support of a single voting day is also to a great extent determined by the cost of the alternative. Firstly the cost in terms of fairness that could be foregone when ballot papers and boxes are exposed to a period of time between voting days, creating opportunities for electoral fraud and manipulation. Secondly the cost in terms of the economy; with economic activity being interrupted for more than one day the result would amount to millions of rands in lost revenue.
With reference to the actual period of time allocated during voting day for the express purpose of voting, it is our opinion that these times should allow reasonable time for those without their own transport or those that have to travel great distances. to cast their vote. Furthermore, the allocation of an adequate period of time, will allow the IEC leeway to adapt to any possible crises (perhaps even closing the voting station for a short period of time) that threatens the interests of free and fair elections, without unreasonably affecting the opportunity for the casting of votes.
6. MOBILE VOTING STATIONS
The UDM is, in principle, in favour of this proposal provided that these mobile voting stations are at all times accompanied by agents from more than one party, in order that fraudulent activities can be discouraged In practice however, we would rather recommend that three to four 'sub-stations' in the vast rural voting districts are explored as a more acceptable solution.
This service (whether mobile or sub-station) will also provide the only true solution for the large number of voters in rural areas that do not have access to private or public transport.
7. MEDIA COVERAGE
The IEC has indicated that it is in favour of unregulated printed media and the regulation of the broadcast media through the Independent Broadcasting Authority. We agree in essence with this proposal. providing that the regulation of the broadcast media is handled in such a way as to give equal opportunity to all the registered political parties (with equal opportunity we do not mean proportional measures).
8. COUNTING OF VOTES
We foresee no problems with the procedure for the counting of votes as described in the Draft Electoral Bill that was presented to the Minister of Home Affairs on the 29th of April 1998.
However the IEC has taken a stance of 'no clarity' on this issue. We therefore have to stress the importance of immediate action to ensure that the IEC tables these regulations, and all the others, as soon as possible.
9. DEMARCATION OF VOTING DISTRICTS
The reality is that the IEC has been in the process of demarcating voting districts for quite some time now, and therefore we cannot comprehend how this issue is now being presented as a political decision.
Even if it is decided that this is an issue that needs to be politically resolved, then it should be referred to the Party Liaison Committees, structures that have to be created by IEC and yet another responsibility with which it is behind on its own timetable.