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Electoral system designed to throttle prospects for independent candidates in the 2024 elections

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Dr Michael Louis is Chairperson of the One South Africa Movement (OSA).

Independent candidates did not perform well in this election, but it was not for want of trying, but because of system that still needs reform to level the playing fields.

South Africa has matured in its democracy and this maturation is evident in our inclusive and evolving electoral system. Last month, we had a contentious election and through it all, parties chose to use the institutions of our democracy rather than opting for violence. We were a beacon of hope in Africa.

Together, we have traversed the challenging and often complex path of building and nurturing our democracy. Today, after the 2024 elections, we stand at a pivotal moment in our history, proud of how far we have come.

In the fight for independent candidates, we have always known it is a marathon and not a sprint. We have for the first time witnessed the incorporation of independent candidates into our electoral landscape, a testament to our commitment to honouring section 19 of the Constitution for human dignity, equality and freedom, inclusivity and fairness.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections dashboard

This inclusion is not just a procedural adjustment; it is a profound acknowledgement of the diverse voices that enrich our democratic discourse. Independent candidates are now and will forever be a vital part of our electoral system, ensuring that we respect this human right that every individual has the right to stand for public office.

On behalf of the organisations I serve, I congratulate them on their courage, tenacity and belief to contribute to our maturing democracy. Independent candidates are here to stay and we need to continue to invite new faces and new voices into our democratic spaces. Our organisation will continue to identify and train new individuals, and more so, to battle to achieve an electoral system that will achieve a fair and equitable result where every vote is equal.

Independent candidates did not perform well in this election. This was not due to a lack of effort on their part or a lack of public interest — it was due to a system designed to throttle their prospects. The poor results and non-showing of independent candidates in the election were for several reasons:

Constituency system

First, the electoral system of an independent candidate standing against a political party in a region as large as a province can never work. This argument was put forward in all our public submissions to Parliament. The only way independent candidates can have a fair chance is through a constituency system where political party representatives contest in their own names as individuals and stand against independent candidates. The constituency system also has the benefit of improving accountability to the communities of voters and is likely to increase voter turnout.

Second, an electoral system where the independent candidate can stand only on one list and is excluded from the compensatory list is unconstitutional. It means that the independent candidate must receive double the votes of a political party. The compensatory and regional lists are added together to obtain the number of seats of each party. This argument has been upheld by the data from this election and the models that were presented to the Constitutional Court have been proven correct.

Third, the votes of the political parties are all added together and averaged out to determine seats obtained, while the votes for independent candidates will qualify for only one region, and the independent candidate must choose the region that they want to represent that has the most votes. This is unfair. If we are not successful in getting a constituency-based electoral system, we will consider the option of independent candidates being allowed to contest across the whole country — a candidate may enjoy more support countrywide than even a small political party.

Fourth, while we recognise the constitutional provision of a voting system that in general will be proportional, we remain convinced that the only fair and just system is one based on a division of 300 seats allocated to direct election and only 100 to proportionality. Currently, the division is 200 for direct elections and 200 for proportionality, which gives political parties more of an advantage and has the technical effect of preventing independents from ever having a majority. This is something that cannot be a true expression of section 19.

Finally, the current method used to determine the fractions is the “droop system”. It has been our submission that the “hare method” is fairer towards independent candidates. If the current electoral Act was determined on the hare principle of calculations, South Africa would have its first independent candidate at a provincial level being represented in Parliament.

Fundamental principle

The facts are: section 195 of the Constitution regulates participatory democracy, reminding us that our government and democracy must be open, ethical and transparent. This section is not merely a guideline, but a fundamental principle that underpins our governance. It demands that we conduct ourselves with integrity and ensure that our democratic processes are accessible and fair to all South Africans.

We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to uphold a working electoral system that is fair and inclusive. This system must give full expression to the constitutional human right of independent candidates to participate in our democracy. It is through such inclusivity that we can foster a vibrant, dynamic and resilient democratic society.

Our commitment to these principles ensures that every South African, regardless of their affiliation or background, has the opportunity to contribute to our nation’s future. By embracing a fair and inclusive electoral system, we honour the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom and the rights enshrined in our Constitution.

The announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that he has been given a mandate by his National Executive Committee to form a government of national unity has given our reform process another big push. The Electoral Amendment Act has made provision for the minister of home affairs to nominate an electoral panel to draft a new electoral system for the 2029 elections. The panel, I am sure, will be reviewed by the newly elected representative government.

We now look forward to participating in a “lekgotla”, as promoted by the President, to debate how to strengthen our democracy by creating a fairer system with more accountability through advocating for a constituency-based system.

We will continue to promote the involvement of all stakeholders of political parties, civil society organisations, traditional leaders and religious organisations for a richer and more inclusive democracy.

Let us all continue to strive to achieve the aspirations of the preamble to our Constitution: “Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.”

The journey ahead may still be long, but with a maturing citizenry and unwavering dedication and courage, we will continue united with one goal in mind — to advance and strengthen our beloved South Africa. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    “Spoilt Votes” scored more than not just any independent, but more than 80% of the small parties COMBINED. Independents will not work. It is not that I believe in parties. My grandfather was mayor of a large city. We still have his posters. The posters don’t mention a party.

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