Opinionista Michael Louis 27 November 2020

Direct Elections Bill will give real power to the people

Independent candidates are the future of governance in South Africa. The ability to elect people who are not dictated to by any political party will strengthen accountability, bring decision-making closer to the people and guarantee that the best, fit-for-purpose individuals represent us in government.

More than a decade ago, British political communications professor Andrew Chadwick wrote a significant chapter on politics titled Disintermediation which appeared in the Encyclopedia of Governance. Thirteen years later, South Africa is on the road to achieving exactly what Chadwick outlines in his argument as the game-changing Direct Elections Bill is tabled before Parliament.

Disintermediation is a universal concept with general applicability to most facets of modern life. In the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of disintermediation, it describes the term in relation to commerce as “the situation in which manufacturers sell directly to consumers, rather than through stores, etc”. Increasingly, direct and less intermediated relationships are becoming the norm. And the internet has by and large been the biggest contributor to this evolution.

In essence, across the board and in every industry, efficiency is being bolstered by “cutting out the middleman”. And central to Chadwick’s chapter is how he frames disintermediation in relation to politics – more succinctly the relationship between the governors and the governed in a democracy.

He states that “in the political field, disintermediation can be found in the increasing attempt, pursued by citizens and political actors themselves, to skip the mediation role of the political party”.

“Since the most important intermediate body in the political field is, without doubt, the political party, then political disintermediation can be defined as the attempt to remove or skip the mediation role of the political party through an increasing power given to voters.”

In the South African political context, we are on the road to achieving this as Parliament has this year been ordered by the Constitutional Court to change our electoral laws to allow for independents, not aligned to any political party, to run for office in provincial and national elections. This means our electoral system has to change. And this is where the Direct Elections Bill enters.

I strongly hold the view that independent candidates are the future of governance in South Africa. The ability to elect people who are not dictated to by any political party will strengthen accountability, bring decision-making closer to the people and guarantee that the best, fit-for-purpose individuals represent us in government. It will be the great disintermediation moment our nation so desperately needs.

The Direct Elections Bill was submitted to the Speaker of Parliament, Thandi Modise, this past week. The bill has been certified, passes constitutional muster and now enters the parliamentary process by which it will be considered, debated and we hope passed into law.

The bill will in effect lead to:

  • Independents having the right to stand for election;
  •  Smaller national Parliament and provincial legislatures;
  • An open and transparent party-list system;
  • Constituency-based elections made up of 52 constituencies;
  • A single transferable vote so as to ensure no votes are wasted; and
  • Electronic elections.

It is important for me to state that this bill is not an “anti-political party” bill. As a founder member of a political party during the democratic transition, I will always recognise the invaluable role political parties fulfilled and continue to fulfil. But that cannot be the only option – voters must be offered alternative options to the strict, closed-list party system.

The troubling truth is that with each election, more and more South Africans elect not to vote. In the last national elections, 17.6 million people voted, while 19.7 million eligible South Africans chose not to vote. This too is a political expression – a vote of no confidence in our political system as it stands.

Although this bill is a Private Members’ Bill, it was birthed, designed and lodged by the people for the people. We need to together take ownership of the bill and in the coming months ahead by giving it the collective character, spirit and authority that will reflect our mature democracy.

Our great disintermediation moment is upon us, and generations to come will look back at this moment as one that changed the fortunes of this beautiful country we call home. DM

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All Comments 5

  • An individual is conscious and therefore has the potential to develop a conscience. Groupings, be they political parties or whatever, are not conscious entities and therefore simply cannot have a conscience. Therefore the direct election of individuals by other individuals to represent the selectors in parliament makes 100% logical sense to me.

  • It is scary to think that more than 50% of voters don’t bother to cast their vote. Most of them , I think, feel it won’t change their predicament. I personally feel that the new bill is an improvement, one hope it will help to get voters back into the system.

  • Independent candidates appear to be a good idea, and certianly I’d welcome the voting alternative to what we currently have in South Africa, but this idea doesn’t really discuss how the intended “democracy” that party -based governance supposes will be dealt with.

    Knowing very well that there is seldom good news in politics, my fears of going backwards into a feudal dictatorship is concerning. Are we not opting hopefully for a benevolent dictator by voting for independents ? And then, as things tend to go, the benevolent part will be crossed out by fancy lawyers and we could be left with no institutional “democracy”. Mmmm ?

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