Umm Muhammed Umar
Forced to put in place a credible local and government election in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s been a bumpy ride for the IEC. The IEC’s integrity was also questioned when it allowed the reopening of the candidate list as requested by the ANC. The question now was whether the November 1 election would be free and fair. Radio Islam spoke to ASRI’s Director of Programs, Ebrahim Fakir.
Fakir said that the list of what constituted free and fair elections, in laymen’s terms, was a very long list, but to be concise, he summed it up as follows the pre-election period (the period leading up to the election), the election period (the day before and after the elections), and the post-election period (from when we go out to vote, to the time at which the results are announced). He added that that was just a small slice of the whole electoral cycle.
During the pre-electoral period, one would focus on the conditions in society, the ability of political parties to reach out to voters, that means the ability to campaign, without being blocked in any way, that there aren’t high levels of political violence. There should also be relative peace and stability even within political parties. Fakir explained that the legal framework must necessarily be very much intact as well – there should not be too many court cases or disputes in the lead up to the elections. In the pre-election process also that there’s opportunity to inspect the voter’s role, and raise objections. Fakir gave the example of the Zimbabwean election at the turn of the century, where voters who had passed away, people who didn’t exist, and people who were deceased were on the voter’s roll. People under 18, who are not who are not supposed to vote, could also be on the voter’s role. He said, “there are people over 18, they meet all the requirements, who should be on the voters roll because they registered, but they are not.”
The Election period, would see all political parties sign the code of conduct, which 24 hours before the day of the election. There would be no big rallies or campaigns then. There should be no massive breakout of fights etc during this period. The IEC, too, must be relatively well prepared in terms of its statistical and administrative arrangements. On the day of the election, no voters should be disenfranchised- no voter should be prevented from going to a voting station; the voting stations must open on time, the electoral staff must know what to do – no one should be barred from participating in the process, voters must receive the correct balloting material, and so on. Fakir said that those were the kinds of things that added to the free and fairness of the election.
In the post-election period, the ability to observe the process must be present. Fakir explains that people should with ease be able to tell that there was no major maladministration, or malfeasant actions, no major incidents of ballot stuffing, that ballot papers were not suddenly found lying on the side of the road, or that there were no ballot boxes stuffed with ballot papers hidden somewhere. Fakir said, “If the legal environment is not conducive, then it detracts from the freeness and the fairness of the elections.” He added that no election around the world could be free of any administrative glitches, and that something would go wrong in some way, but that “the broad freeness and fairness is measured by the extent to which the participants and voters, accept the outcome of the results.”
The pandemic also would have a significant effect on the elections. The finding made by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, was that it was not conducive to have an election in this period. Fakir said that in the pre-election period the ability by parties to campaign, while relatively free, was still impacted by the fact that huge rallies could not be held. So, the extent of outreach was not the same. Further, the conditions of the curfew meant truncated hours. Fakir said, “we know the curfew is only from midnight, people aren’t campaigning then, but the ability to have meetings, people print posters and T shirts overnight, people do planning and campaigning,” had been impacted on. He said, “Many of us actually argued that……the elections, ought to have been postponed, notwithstanding what the Constitution says, because the Constitution is not cast in stone.”
Regarding whether the results could be challenged, Fakir said to bear in mind that this election was so diverse, and that with every little municipality involved, it was like having, roughly, 284 mini elections. So, there was a likelihood of it being challenged. However, he added, “the regulatory safeguards and the oversight safeguards are very much intact.” These, according to Fakir, were:
- Every party was allowed to make objections on the voters roll if they chose to do so. Every party was allowed to raise objections to candidates who should not have been there. Every party was able to inspect the voters role.
- They are multi party liaison committees. These meet once a week with the IEC before an election. Every major decision made by the IEC is subject to discussion and approval at the multi-party liaison committee.
- Every party was entitled to party agents to watch the process and to watch the counting, and more importantly to sign off on the count.
- There are conflict management panels to which you can refer disputes to for arbitration, and if still unsatisfied, there is the Electoral Court, ultimately.
Fakir said that all of the above points indicated, reassuringly, that the oversight process, the regulatory process, the consultative process was extremely tightly managed, and was very robust.