Last Friday, the National Assembly was granted a six-month extension by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) in order to amend the Electoral Act 73 of 1998.
The extension – until 10 December 2022 – will afford time for the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to amend the Act to allow independent candidates to stand in national and provincial elections in the future.
Advocacy group My Vote Counts (MVC) on Monday welcomed the extension, but argued that the Amendment Bill in its current form was flawed “because its process has been marred by delays and a shallow public participation process”.
“Considering these failures, it’s clear that there has been little political will to finalise this process.
“This is of serious concern considering that this is one of the most important legislative endeavours since the dawn of our democracy,” the organisation said on Monday.
“The Bill could fundamentally change how we vote, who represents us and how decisions are made on our behalf. The integrity, therefore, of the process in the next six months cannot afford to be jeopardised,” MVC added.
Parliament filed its papers to the ConCourt on 25 April requesting for a deadline extension, which came after the committee indicated that it needed more time – at least six months – to undertake an “extensive and meaningful” public participation process.
MVC has since asked the committee’s chairperson for information on how the “flaws” will be addressed over the next six months.
The advocacy group said it was concerned on whether the latest deadline would be met as MPs will go on a two-month recess – starting on Wednesday until mid-August.
“We are especially concerned as Parliament will be on a two-month recess from 15 June to 15 August 2022. We will closely follow the Electoral Amendment Bill process in the upcoming months.
“Further, we call on Parliament to give priority to the Electoral Amendment Bill, especially as we move towards the 2024 General Elections,” the organisation said.
Parliament has already said it plans to send the Bill to President Cyril Ramaphosa by the end of September.
“Parliament will use this extension period to finalise the Bill. It is anticipated that the Bill will be sent to the president for assent by end September, so as to leave sufficient time for the president to remit the Bill to Parliament should he have any constitutional concerns,” Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said in a statement last Friday.
The ConCourt on 11 June 2020 ruled that Section 19 of the Electoral Act was unconstitutional for not allowing independent candidates to contest provincial and national elections.
In its ruling, the court suspended its order of the Act’s invalidity for 24 months until 10 June, which then required Parliament to make the necessary amendments “to remedy the defect giving rise to the unconstitutionality” in this period.
Parliament, however, argued for an extension because the Bill was only introduced to the National Assembly on 10 January 2022 – leaving the committee with “only five months to process a bill of such public significance and interest”.
The case was brought by the civil organisation New Nation Movement (NNM) to the apex court in 2019, requesting that independent candidates be allowed to stand as lawmakers in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.