Daily Dispatch Dialogue on – 18 August 2015, Guild Theater, East London at 18h40. TOPIC: “Does South Africa Need Electoral Reform.”

By Mr Bantu Holomisa, President of the United Democratic Movement and Member of Parliament.

Programme Director, Fellow Panellists and Participants, good evening.

Let me from the onset, acknowledge and welcome the great and timely contribution by Mama Bam on one of the most important matter of national interest. Indeed Electoral Systems do play a significant role in the creation of a truly democratic society. Her book, “Democracy, More than Just Elections” not only provides an insight into various dimensions of her wealth of knowledge and wisdom on the workings of democracy – it also re-affirms and reinforce a clarion call that has reverberated our national discourse as  far back as 2000.

In this regard, we support her well-considered view that, South Africa does need an electoral regime that will encourage greater responsibility and accountability from citizens and political leaders. We hope that her voice, as it adds to others will mobilise citizens and political leader into action.

In your book you said, “We all know that cynicism about politicians and their parties exists everywhere in the world, but it is more pronounced where there is no structural connection between politicians and voters. We are now a maturing democracy and should consider changing our electoral system which ushered in our heart-earned democracy. We are more self – confident, self – assured and more responsible for our own lives than to relegate our right to choose the leader of our country to card carrying members of the parties. It is time to review our electoral reform system”.

Sisi Hlophe, I could not agree more with your well thought observation. Indeed Section 43 (3) of the South African Constitution states that, “the National Assembly is elected to represent the people to ensure government by the people through the Constitution”.

I strongly believe that, 21 years into democracy, the participatory deliberative model of democracy should be central in the enrichment and strengthening of democratic citizenship.

Political accountability is at the heart of fully-functioning democracy.

The current proportional representation (PR) system means that elected leaders are accountable solely to their party bosses and not to the people who voted them into office.

In addition the current practice where political parties impose their choice of president on the nation is profoundly undemocratic.

Through the current system, electorate mandates a political party to govern based on its policies and manifesto. However, we have noticed that the ruling party is held at ransom from implementing its mandate because some of their allies who have not been mandated by the electorate seem to have veto powers in particular with regard to Economic Policies.

This dilemma makes governance ineffective, compromise confidence of investors, jobs shading, increasing levels of poverty and result to instability. Once such situation exists, opportunistic leaders take advantage and do things that have nothing to do with the electorate’s mandate but their own interests, like the current disputed procurement of nuclear energy and many other questionable transactions such as Arm’s Deal. To make things worse these leaders become intransigent and use these MP’s who have no constituencies as voting cattle to rubber stamp their nefarious objectives.

The UDM notes that a great deal of inputs from diverse and often conflicting social, economic, political, linguist and cultural communities as well as interests groups informed the decisions which were made and ultimately  culminated in the Constitution we have today that has become an international benchmark. Any discussion on a new electoral system must always remind us where we come from.

We should move towards a mixed electoral system that draws from the strengths of both the proportional and constituency based electoral systems. The first major step we need to take is the introduction of constituencies into the PR system to ensure that politicians have a specific geographically-defined community they represent.

We also need to change the electoral laws to allow for a separately elected President, as is the case in many democracies across the globe in that way we will put the power back in the hands of the voters.

However, it is important that any electoral reform process culminates in as widely inclusive manner as possible. We would do well to follow the example of many countries such as New Zealand, Ireland etc, who confirmed electoral reforms by holding referendums. In this way, every voter is consulted directly.

The current electoral system risks the checks and balances that are a necessity in ensuring that the Constitutional dictates are adhered to at all material times.

The research conducted by Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) and release in April 2014, has made serious findings that may question the legitimacy of the election processes. Amongst others, it has found that the electorate is a subject of political intimidation through, amongst others:

·       Manipulation of people using misinformation and threats regarding pensions and grants;

·       Interfering with access to meeting facilities;

·       The disruption of meetings;

·       Assaults and threats of physical harm; and

·       Punishing people who associate with rival political parties through the denial of jobs, contracts, services and development opportunities.

In addition, the research report concludes that, voters and electoral processes are manipulated and opposition parties are undermined through:

·       Fraudulent voter registration; and

·       The targeted use of government resources to promote parties immediately prior to elections. When last for instance did you see trucks distributing food parcels to the needy, but come elections next year you will see them often, to hood-wink the voters.

The other body that causes a lot of confusion is the Demarcation Board whose mandate to draw boundaries is always done to favour the ruling party.

Citizens in the meantime are also demobilised into non active and disorganised individuals, whose collective voices are only heard when they take to the streets to demand service. There is no deliberate direct involvement of the people in running their own affairs, taking charge of their own lives and freedom, with government and other development agencies as facilitators.

To make things worse, some civil society organs like, unions who were supposed to be at the centre of mobilising communities into activism, are core governing with the ruling elite. During elections, some of their members become part of the IEC machinery.

If you take a case of a POPCRU member who is supposed to intervene in the disruption of a political party’s elections meeting; where the ruling party is involved, such a member would certainly be compromised from discharging his or her Constitutional obligation without fair or favour.

His or her ascendance to the next higher position at work, is intrinsically depended on the deployment committee of the ruling party. No member of a Cosatu affiliated union will be able to carry-out his or her work fairly and without bias and yet some of the SADTU members ar