The Electoral Commission has appointed former Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, to lead the process of evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on conditions conducive for free and fair Local Government Elections on 27 October.
Making the announcement on Thursday, the IEC said Moseneke will undertake an urgent appraisal of all the relevant legal, socio-political, health, practical and other considerations, and submit a report to the Commission in July.
“In addition to assessing the various factors, the report may also make recommendations of additional measures to further fortify the integrity and safety of the elections,” IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini said at a briefing.
The appointment is in line with Section 14(4) of the Electoral Commission Act. This section provides for the Commission, should it deem necessary, to publish a report on the likelihood or otherwise that it will be able to ensure that any pending elections will be free and fair.
Mashinini said the IEC has, over the past two years, engaged political parties through the National Party Liaison Committee (NPLC), as part of its preparations for the Local Government Elections in 2021.
“More recently, it has emerged that the various political parties are divided on whether the upcoming Local Government Elections can be free and fair within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the majority of political parties believe that elections should proceed under the extant Constitutional provisions, some parties have raised concerns that restrictions on campaigning imposed by the national disaster regulations could undermine the freeness and fairness of the elections,” he said.
Election preparations are already at an advanced stage and the Commission is satisfied that it is possible to conduct successful elections within the current circumstances.
“The commission is also confident that the special COVID-19 protocols and measures to be put in place for the elections will provide adequate safeguards. These measures have been tested in over 150 by-elections conducted over the past six months,” Mashinini said.
He said on Wednesday, 40 by-elections were successfully conducted in 251 voting stations across six provinces, involving more than 360 000 registered voters.
The measures also take into consideration the experiences of a number of other countries in conducting elections successfully during the pandemic.
Despite its confidence, Mashinini said the Commission is not oblivious to the uncertainties and unpredictability of the pandemic, and the risks associated with hosting events that bring together large numbers of people.
“The Commission wishes to benefit from an independent evaluation of all factors that have a bearing on the possibility or otherwise of a free and fair elections,” he said.
Mashinini said the proclamation of the elections by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, triggers a series of electoral processes, including the closing of the voters’ roll and the opening of candidate nominations.
“This proclamation must take place by early August in order to allow a minimum of 86 days for the Commission to undertake all its obligations, in terms of the elections timetable.
“In order to allow the Commission to benefit from the report, it needs to be submitted by mid-July at the latest,” he said.
As part of the process, Justice Moseneke will consider submissions from various stakeholders represented within the National Political Party Liaison Committee and key electoral stakeholders, including the administration of the Electoral Commission.
The process will also consider representations from health authorities, in particular on matters related to the trajectory of the pandemic, as well as efforts to manage, mitigate and reach community immunity through vaccination.
It will also engage disaster management authorities, including CoGTA, and other relevant government structures.
Moseneke said he could not reject the request to lead the evaluation, saying it is an “extraordinary assignment”.
“I could not ignore the importance of this undertaking within the context of our ongoing journey to entrench and strengthen democracy in our country.
“This is the first time in the history of our nascent democracy that we have faced such extraordinary circumstances. How we respond as a country will have far-reaching consequences for our democracy and for our people,” he said.
Despite the tight timeframes, Moseneke said the process must be conducted rapidly and robustly “to consider and assess all factors that may affect or influence the freeness and fairness of the upcoming elections”.