BUSINESS DAY LIVE: IEC may have to postpone local elections for a year

The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) finds itself in a legal bind that could result in local government elections being held as late as next year. On Tuesday night the commission announced the postponement of municipal by-elections in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, the North West and the Western Cape.

This followed a decision by the Electoral Court to postpone by-elections in six of the seven wards that had been scheduled for a rerun in the North West’s Tlokwe municipality.

The issue emanated from last year’s Constitutional Court ruling on the by-elections. The court found that the IEC failed to provide the voters’ addresses on the voters roll and ordered it to rectify the irregularities.

This week’s Electoral Court ruling is set to affect the forthcoming local government elections. Although no date has been fixed yet, by law the elections have to be conducted before August this year. Contacted for comment yesterday, the IEC said it could not provide answers on the postponement.

Speaking to Eyewitness News yesterday, political analyst Steven Friedman said the IEC was evidently not ready for local government elections. "The reality is that they have not done what the (Constitutional) court wants them to do. Until they do what the court wants them to do we can’t have local (government) elections."

However, it was difficult and almost impractical to get addresses for all voters on the roll, he said. Some lived in informal settlements that did not have such addresses. One of the options left for the IEC was to go back to the court to seek clarity, he said. It could tell the Constitutional Court that it could not practically carry out what the court wanted it to do.

"(But) the court may well say … this is our minimum condition for a free and fair election and if you don’t comply with it then the election is not free and fair and at that stage we may be looking at the postponement of the elections until next year," he said.

A postponement of the elections to next year could have financial and political implications and would further erode the country’s reputation.

Shadrack Gutto from the University of SA said: "I think the IEC really should have done a better job. It has gone through a difficult time and (with) new leadership coming in it is going to take time to settle down. But they (the IEC) have to do so quickly."

Prof Gutto said the latest bungle meant that the commission would have less time to prepare for the local government elections.

Constitutional lawyer Pierre de Vos said the Constitutional Court’s order was vague. However, the commission should have demonstrated that it had attempted to find the addresses of people on the voters roll. Read more here