South Africa:Thabo Mbeki Joins Fray On Electoral Bill: ‘ANC Lacks Leadership’

Opposition is mounting against the Electoral Amendment Bill passed by the National Assembly last week as former president Thabo Mbeki, over the weekend, joined electoral reform campaigner Valli Moosa and other prominent public figures in criticising the ANC for putting its own interests above democracy. 

The Act was amended in a rushed process by Parliament after a ruling by the Constitutional Court in June 2020 that it must make provision for independent candidates to stand for election in line with the Bill of Rights, which says all citizens have a right to stand for election.

The ANC pushed through the amendment in parliament with the help of other parties, which will make minimal change to the system, and keeps the party-list proportional representation system largely intact.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Strategic Dialogue Group (SDG) on Saturday, Mbeki said he was appalled by ANC leaders who suggested that the party designs electoral policy to ensure it wins elections.

“When the matter was discussed at the national executive committee (NEC) not long ago, you have members of the NEC of the ANC saying we must write the electoral law so that the ANC wins. Comrades cited examples to reinforce this point. How can the ANC design electoral policy so that it wins? ANC must design an electoral policy to advance the democratic revolution,” Mbeki said.

He said electoral policy discussions indicated the ANC’s lack of leadership.

“It tells you something about what happened to our leadership where you have people sitting in the national executive committee who think the ANC can design policies just to benefit itself,” the former president said.

Moosa, who headed an inter-ministerial committee that advocated the introduction of a constituency system alongside proportional representation party lists, said he believed few people in the ANC leadership understood the system they were putting in place.

Speaking at the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation (KMF) forum on inclusive growth [in the Drakensberg] on Saturday, Moosa described the bill as “a completely irrational piece of legislation” that is a cynical attempt to meet the requirements of the Constitutional Court and “insults the electorate”.

“It is so complex and complicated that hardly anyone in the political leadership of our country seems to understand it. I’ve personally spoken to a number of them. A system shrouded in mystery provides fertile ground for Trump-like claims of manipulation,” said Moosa.

Moosa’s recommendations followed two other expert reports advocating the same mixed system of proportional representation and constituencies, one undertaken by Motlanthe in 2017 and another by former leader of the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), Frederick van Zyl Slabbert in 2003.

A constituency system would improve the accountability of public representatives, who, over the past 28 years, have answered to their party bosses rather than the people who voted them into office.

Other prominent figures at the KMF forum also added their voices to criticism of the bill. Former deputy finance minister and MTN chairman, Mcebisi Jonas called for “a mobilisation” of society to campaign for thoroughgoing electoral reform.

“We need a fundamental rethink of the electoral system that has created a crisis of political accountability. I do not see how elected representatives will change their tendency to kowtow to the whims of their political parties unless the system changes to make them more accountable to their constituents,” said Jonas.

Songezo Zibi, chairman of the Rivonia Circle, a platform advocating political change, said “a new round of political reforms” were needed.

“It is not just the electoral system we need to change, and in a way that is not dishonest and unconstitutional like the current bill. Instead, we must seek deliberately to shift more power to ordinary people so their representatives do not position themselves as leaders, but as servants, or they will get fired regardless of what their party bosses think,” said Zibi.

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