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DA urges Western governments to help counter threats to 29 May polls

DA urges Western governments to help counter threats to 29 May polls
Illustrative image: (Photos: Shiraaz Mohamed, GCIS, Gallo Images and EPA-EFE.)

The DA and other Multi-Party Charter parties believe the ANC’s expected drop to below 50% presents opportunities — but also risks.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to Western governments, urging them to help the opposition counter threats of domestic and foreign interference in the 29 May national and provincial elections.

The letter to the foreign ministers of the G7 industrialised nations, the European Union and four Nordic countries asks them for support in observing the elections, voter education and establishing a parallel vote tabulation (PVT) system.

The ANC has countered that it might invite more of its “own friends” to observe the election too.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

The letter, written by the DA’s international relations spokesperson Emma Powell, warns that the expected drop in the ANC’s national support to well below 50% for the first time — and its possible loss of some provinces — “presents both significant risks as well as opportunities”.

It notes that “as the ruling elite grow more desperate to retain electoral support ahead of the upcoming elections, they may be willing to put their narrow political interests ahead of our country’s broader interests and sacred constitutional values”.

It was a follow-up letter to a similar one which the 11 leaders of the DA-led Multi-Party Charter (MPC) wrote to the foreign ministers of the G7 nations and the EU last month, also requesting support to ensure the integrity of the elections.

That letter also warned that the drop in ANC support to below 50% “inevitably heightens the threat to electoral integrity”.

However, the letter also emphasised that the MPC had confidence in the Electoral Commission (IEC) but that domestic efforts to ensure the integrity of the elections still needed international support.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Malicious actors: Five ways to detect coordinated electoral disinformation campaigns

Powell explained to Daily Maverick, “We do not believe the IEC will attempt to steal the election. We do, however, have 23,500 or so voting districts and we need additional observers and PVT to prevent irregularities at the granular level.”

PVT is the counting of votes independently of the official electoral authority. It is usually done in countries where the independence and integrity of the official election authority are in doubt. 

However, as Powell indicated, in South Africa’s case, the concern is that the vote could be stolen at the level of polling stations, by other political parties, particularly because the MPC parties, even taken together, do not seem to have sufficient staff to monitor all the stations. 

The DA seems particularly concerned about potential disruption by the MK party recently established by Jacob Zuma, which has issued several threats of violence.

It warns the foreign governments that the MK party “poses a substantive risk to the continued peaceful nature of our political discourse as a nation”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: IEC must act urgently against threats of electoral violence in SA

The DA letter adds, “We are witnessing an increasing willingness by the ANC to forge alliances with malign international actors, whose regimes are characterised by tyranny, terror and oppression.”

It repeats the warning of the seven MPC leaders in their letter to the foreign governments last month that these “malign international actors” could interfere in the elections. It mentions no names but very likely has Russia in mind as Moscow has already demonstrated its willingness to try to disrupt US elections.

Powell’s letter says the foreign countries “can help to safeguard against any attempts to disrupt the democratic process or negatively influence the South African electorate through misinformation and disinformation campaigns”.

It asks the governments to provide opposition parties and independent watchdogs with technological resources “to safeguard against sinister attempts to manipulate election outcomes, particularly within vulnerable communities”.

The DA also asks the Western governments to help civil society organisations provide voter education and support for domestic election observers — if the SA government refuses permission for increased contingents of international observers. 

DA ‘out of line’

Obed Bapela, the coordinator of the ANC’s international relations subcommittee, told Daily Maverick that the DA and MPC were wrong to invite foreign governments to observe the elections. That was the preserve of the IEC, which in any case usually only invited election observers from organisations like the African Union, Southern African Development Community, Commonwealth and EU, rather than individual governments. 

Bapela said the IEC also allowed political parties to invite a certain number of foreign political parties to observe the elections, though they were given more limited access to polling stations than official observer missions. In the past, the ANC had only invited fellow former liberation movements from Africa.

But this time, the ANC would consider inviting some of its friends from outside Africa. Bapela was quoted in News24 this week as saying this could include Russia. However, he told Daily Maverick he had not specified any particular country as the ANC had not yet decided who to invite.

While the IEC is responsible for inviting foreign election observer missions, it leaves it up to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) to invite foreign diplomats based in SA to observe the elections. Some embassies, such as the US, used to deploy large teams of diplomats. However, under the Zuma administration, Dirco controversially restricted the observers to two per embassy.

DA finance spokesperson Dion George recently visited the IEC and was told this was still the policy.

“Our view is that IEC should want as many observers as available. This can only enhance the freedom and fairness of the election. In this instance, IEC appears to be taking a passive bystander approach.”

Bapela said the MPC parties should invest more in voter education rather than asking foreign governments for help.

The Western governments which have been asked for support seem to be uncertain about how to respond. That might explain why a month after the MPC leaders appealed to them for help, the DA felt the need to repeat the request this week.

Western governments want the election to be as free and fair as possible, but don’t want to be seen to be meddling in such a vital domestic process.

One diplomat told Daily Maverick that it was in any case very late for them to be able to help. A PVT process, for instance, usually takes about two years to set up.

Daily Maverick asked Dirco to comment on the appeals by the MPC and DA to the foreign governments, but had not received a reply by the time of publication. DM

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