South Africa

ANALYSIS

Participating & accepting IEC election results – the parallel tracks of 2024 polls

Participating & accepting IEC election results – the parallel tracks of 2024 polls
An audience member reacts to Gayton McKenzie's comments about Gaza during The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition panel at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

With so many variables that can affect the 29 May elections, a fundamental question is sometimes overlooked: Will all of the parties involved, or at least the majority of them, accept the results?

One of the worst-case scenarios for the upcoming general election is that one of the bigger parties, or a group of smaller parties refuses to accept the official results. Already, some parties have said publicly they have reason to not fully trust the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). 

At Daily Maverick’s The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four on Thursday, the five political parties represented were asked whether they would accept the results. Considering that four of the parties were represented by their leaders, and the fifth by the minister of justice, they all spoke with authority on this crucial issue.

The parties in the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) movement (of which three were on stage on Thursday) recently called on the Group of Seven countries to send observers to the elections. In response, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the MPC was “almost trying to mortgage our country to other powers in the world”.

For the IEC, the best response to the question would have been for all five parties to state unequivocally that they would accept the election results when they are announced in the days after 29 May.

Instead, some party leaders were very critical of the commission.

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba said he still felt aggrieved that his party lost a battle with the IEC in the Electoral Court in 2021 over how his party’s logo was depicted on the ballot papers. He claimed it cost the party 60,000 votes.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said the IEC had “failed its first test”, through the leaking of the candidate lists of the ANC and uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK). Steenhuisen said a DA list had also been leaked (the IEC has fired the employee who leaked the ANC and MK lists).

Steenhuisen said, “This is an example of the cadre deployment that has been taking place that’s now resulted in a factional battle in the IEC.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Gathering 2024

Somewhat hysterical

He pointed out that in 1994 the ANC welcomed international observers from many parts of the world. He suggested this was because the ANC was concerned the National Party would still be able to influence the outcome of the polls.

This is an entirely reasonable point which makes Ramaphosa’s response about mortgaging our country to the West appear somewhat hysterical.

For its part, the ANC representative, Ronald Lamola, said they would accept the outcome, and there was no reason to believe the IEC would fail now when it had delivered consistently credible elections in the past.

Of course, it is likely that the IEC will face the toughest criticism from a party that was not on the stage on Thursday — Jacob Zuma’s MK.

Already, MK has tried to field Zuma as its candidate, with the full knowledge that he is ineligible to run. 

The ANC has challenged the IEC’s acceptance of MK as the party’s name, saying that Umkhonto weSizwe was entirely its creation as the name of its armed wing during the Struggle.

Technically, none of this is really up to the IEC (although if no parties object to Zuma’s inclusion on the MK list, the IEC’s Chief Electoral Officer can lodge such an objection). Rather it is up to the Electoral Court — and here, judges would decide on the two cases.

But, in the minds of many voters, and crucially the supporters of parties that lose these disputes, there may be no distinction between the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Court.

They will simply see this as part of a concerted campaign to treat them unfairly.

All of this points to the possibility of the IEC being in the firing line, and depending on how things play out, from multiple sides.

For the moment, the ANC is supporting the IEC; certainly, Lamola’s comments show this, and this may be partly because it believes it will win disputes with MK.

And as the party that has won all of South Africa’s democratic elections, it would be churlish for the ANC to now start a dispute with the IEC.

While this may avoid one of the worst-case scenarios (that the ANC falls below 50% and refuses to accept the outcome), it could create another, equally bad, scenario — that the ANC accepts a result that sees it emerge as the biggest party, while most of the other parties dispute it.

There are likely to be disputes along the way. Some opposition parties might again object to the fact that many polling stations are based at schools, which inevitably leads to teachers working for the IEC. These parties claim that some of the teachers belong to the SA Democratic Teachers Union, a part of Cosatu, which supports the ANC. However, no evidence of wrongdoing here has ever been found.

Election safeguards

It is extremely unlikely that there will be any kind of fraud in these elections.

First, the structure of the election is designed to build confidence. Party agents can watch the entire process, from voter registration, to voting, to counting and tabulating the votes. It is for this reason that parties sometimes announce the results of certain cities or regions before the IEC does, as they already have the unaudited data, which the IEC has to check again.

This means that any party wanting to object would have to provide strong evidence.

Then, there are other initiatives run by civil society groups that create a network of independent observers who monitor voting and counting on the ground around the country.

And, of course, there will be international observers too, from a variety of different countries and organisations, including the African Union and the EU (it is not known at this stage whether Russia, China and Zanu-PF will send teams…). 

All of this should mitigate against any claims of large-scale fraud.

Also, our society has become rather transparent, with videos of wrongdoing emerging almost as it happens. While there will inevitably be incidents at polling stations, it will be nigh impossible to significantly affect the outcome of the election. 

What is likely is that no matter what happens, someone will come away unhappy. The IEC’s job is to ensure that no case can be made against it, simply by running the elections transparently, freely and fairly. DM

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