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[LISTEN] When Political Parties Blame Everything Except Themselves

Nov 03, 2021

Ebrahim Deen

On Monday, 1 November 2021,South Africans elected over 10 000 candidates to run the country’s 270 local municipalities, and over 5000 wards and councils, in a process which was slow at best.

While the vote was largely free, the Independent Electoral Commission has been severely criticised by opposition parties for lack of adequate training, and glitches in the deployment of its 30 000 voter management devices, which meant that over a hundred thousand people were not able to vote, lowering the already low turnout. There were also accusations of ballot stuffing, and, in some instances, ballot papers had run out by 08:30 in the morning, leading to voters being turned away, many of whom did not cast their vote when ballots did eventually arrive.

The IEC has reiterated that the timing of the election process was limited, inhibiting the commission’s organisational capacity, and that it was largely satisfied with the election, but that a report will be presented to parliament tabling some of the teething issues and possible recommendations -the normal 86 day process was decreased to just over 40 days as a result of a constitutional court ruling mandating that elections could not be postponed.

Speaking to Radio Islam International, Mr Terry Tselane, former Deputy Chairperson of the Commission, argued that the commission had dropped the ball. He argued that the voter management devices, which were revolutionary, should have first been tested before having been deployed. Further he was critical of the issue of the ‘Change’ party, whose name  was not captured on the ballot, and with which a compromise had to be reached by the IEC. The many court cases faced by the Commission was also a controversial point, causing the integrity of the commission to be perceived differently.

In addition, Tselane wondered about the reasons informing the slow capturing of the results, especially since they had already been counted and because the Commission had provided assurances that 90% would be captured by Tuesday evening. He said, “That’s what normally happens, But the fact that we still sitting here at where we were at around 10, 11 last night, when we left, I think it’s a matter of concern. I’m not too sure what could be the reasons, and hopefully they’ll have a better explanation to give when they come and give a press conference later.”

Tselane was less critical of the IEC’s role in the lack of voter turnout, which most argue was the job of political parties, but which has seen these same parties blame the commission for their mistakes, especially since turnout is likely to fall far short of 50%. this meant that only 12 million of a possible 42 million had participated in the poll. Tselane argued that this was itself a form of political participation, and that this was likely an organised process, informed by the lack of progress and a feeling that demands could be better met using different means. 26 million South Africans were  eligible to vote by virtue of them being on the voters roll, while a further 16 million, many between the ages of 18 and 29, did not even seek to register. Tselane said, “It’s actually a participation, it’s a vote and people are saying they’re not going to be participating through formal structures because those formal structures have not yielded, [progress].. political parties must wake up and begin to realize that they, as public representatives have actually discredited the whole democratic process.”

Meanwhile, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), on Wednesday, presented initial results of its Elections Satisfaction survey, which saw the perceptions and views of around 12 000 voters from over 300 polling stations gauged. The survey concluded that amongst voters, 95% found the vote free and fair, with 96% expressing satisfaction with the IEC’s conduct and organisation. In addition, between 94 and 96% of surveyed voters were happy with the voting process and signage in voting stations and booths, and around 80% were happy with the professionalism, enthusiasm, knowledge and interest of IEC officials present. Significantly, around 77% of surveyed voters were able to cast their vote within 15 minutes, with only 7% taking more than half an hour, alluding to relatively efficient and optimal running of the process.

It is however concerning that only 70% of those surveyed saw officials as fully apolitical. Further, it is noteworthy that the survey only captured the sentiment of voters and not the many who did not turn out to vote.  In addition, it does need to be noted that the lack of turnout will have benefited the IEC, as voting stations become less stressful, leading to improved efficiency and shorter lines, which would likely cause increased voter satisfaction – turnout this year stands at between 43 and 45 %, down from 58% in 2016.

Worryingly however, it does need to be noted that political parties often try to blame external factors instead of introspecting; especially in a context wherein the ruling ANC and opposition Democratic Alliance have both lost tremendously. The ANC, is currently introspecting, as is the DA, thus far largely true to itself choosing to blame other factors. It is noteworthy that in the DA’s case, the inclement weather in Cape Town had a disproportional impact on turnout. and likely arrested its possible slide, as mainly upper class voters were able to vote, while poorer voters, which generally are less likely to support the party, were unable to cast their vote. Yet, despite this, the party has lost a few municipalities, including the well run Cape Aghullas municipality, indicating a growing trust deficit, and an increasing perception that the party represents a single race group.

Last, it is noteworthy that much of the IEC’s current inadequacies, and the glitches experienced, will likely not in any way have impacted the overall result of the poll, but as the electoral map becomes ever more congested, minor glitches can in future sway results, especially in a context wherein around 50 of the 270 municipalities will likely end up as hung municipalities, with South Africa’s partially first past the post method at ward level, meaning that a few votes can  radically impact results. In addition, perceptions of the institute are often more important than its actual performance, especially in a context wherein glitches are being highlighted by political parties as a means of deflection. We thus await the next poll and the subsequent voter satisfaction and turnout results, which may indicate the trust citizens place in the institute’s integrity.

 

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