Municipal Elections 2000: briefing

Home Affairs

14 March 2000
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 March 2000
MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS-2000: BRIEFING BY IEC OFFICIALS

Documents Handed Out:
"Municipal Elections-2000" Materials

Chairperson: Mr. Mokoena (ANC)

MINUTES
The presentation was made by IEC chief Professor Mandla Mchunu, assisted by Norman Du Plessis, IEC Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, and IEC legal counsel Advocate Lambani. The Professor prefaced his remarks by indicating that he wished to inform the Committee as to the IEC's state of readiness to conduct the upcoming elections and to familiarize them with the challenges the IEC is facing in its efforts. He also respectfully noted that he would mention ways in which the Committee might assist in the process. He also noted that he would highlight in his slide show matters covered in the materials distributed to the members.

The Professor said that the legal timeframe for the elections runs from 1/11/2000 - 29/1/2001, but that the IEC is gearing itself to the earliest date which could be set by the Minister of Provincial and Local Government Affairs. He stated that it is imperative to hold the elections, which will complete the democratization process, at a time when most people are in their usual residences, but that another scheduling factor was the need not to disrupt activities at schools, many of which are used as polling stations.

Noting that the elections are to be held simultaneously in all 300+ municipalities (reduced from 800+ via recent consolidations), Du Plessis then briefly outlined the structure of the balloting:
In the 5 Metro Councils (Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Johannesburg, East Rand), 2 ballots— ward/proportional

In approx 232 "Category B" municipalities, 3 ballots-- ward/proportional/proportional for District Councils (of which there are approx. 46)

In rural, sparsely populated "District Management" areas 2 ballots—proportional/proportional for District Councils

Advocate Lambani explained that the Municipal Structures Act provides the framework for the election, but that the IEC has been charged, per the Electoral Act, with developing regulations prescribing "how" elections are conducted. This is pending passage of comprehensive legislation governing the electoral system and how all elections are to be conducted. The Electoral Act was a constitutionally required interim measure of limited applicability. It was noted that if Parliament were to be dissolved for some reason there is currently no extant legislation prescribing how the next legislature is to be elected. This is a problem needing immediate attention, thus passage of the new Elections Act is essential. This draft Bill will soon be submitted to the Committee, with passage hoped for by June 2000. Coordination on this Bill with the Committee for Provincial and Local Government Affairs will be vital.

Bar coded ID's will be exclusively relied in the upcoming election. "Temporary registration" cards, as used in 1999, will not be used in 2000, and this reliance on ID's is to emphasized as part of the voter awareness efforts of the IEC and the political parties, and individual politicians (when they visit their constituencies). Accordingly the Dept. of Home Affairs will need to allocate resources to process increased volumes of ID applications.

The Professor said that coordination and cooperation are crucial to conducting the elections in a timely and efficient manner. Referring to the timeline in the distributed materials, he noted that if completion of certain elements by other stakeholders which the IEC is relying on are delayed (such as the work of the Demarcation Board), the election will be delayed. In order to help avoid this, the IEC has set up at this relatively early stage various "informal structures" to facilitate cooperation and coordination. He noted that while the elections are local and by their nature must be conducted in a fragmented fashion, they must be coordinated nationally with a "holistic approach", with maximum energy devoted to maintaining an atmosphere where they can be conducted freely and fairly.

Discussion
Mr Kalako (ANC) asked why the voting must be so complex in smaller towns and rural areas, and Prince Zulu (IFP) made the same point, noting the high levels of illiteracy in rural areas.

The reply was that this results from the provisions of the Municipal Structures Act, which the IEC must implement, but that the ballots will be clear, and that with prior voter education and assistance by proper officials on election day problems should be minimized. However, it was also noted, in response to questions from the Chair and Rev Meshoe (ACDP), that because of cost and logistical reasons related to the difficulty of simultaneously conducting what in essence are 3500+ separate elections, ballots will not be printed in color, nor numbered. However, Du Plessis stated that lack of numbering will not affect the reconciliation process.

He continued by stating that if the election is to occur on November 1, the voters roll will close on August 31 (with one "last chance" registration weekend to be scheduled), though the cut-off date for information used for finalisation of district/ward determinations is March 31.

Responding to a query from Mr Mfundisi (UCDP), he clarified that this timetable would also include a September 17 deadline for party nominations and registration of new political parties. He noted that the necessity of a gap of at least two weeks between closing of the voters roll and closing of nominations, and a two month gap between closing of the voters roll and the election date. Longer gaps would be preferable, but are not feasible. In the meantime, the IEC continues efforts to confirm addresses of voters already on the roll, and has progressed in updating its database. (In this regard, the Professor later noted individuals' "cultural reluctance" to update information as a matter of course, and the issue of how the IEC database can now be accessed in the wake of the recently passed "open democracy" legislation.)

Responding to Miss Buthelezi (ANC), the Professor indicated that there would be mobile polling stations in rural areas, but in response to Mr Skhosana (ANC) noted that no provision has been made for "special votes". While this was done last year, it is too cumbersome to implement for local elections.

Responding to Mr Sikakane (ANC), the Professor emphasized that holding the elections simultaneously on one day was workable and desirable insofar as ensuring security of ballot boxes, and necessary given budget constraints.

Following up on that point, Mr Walters (DP) inquired whether the IEC's budget request of R450M was sufficient. The Professor noted that R998M had been the initial request to the Department of Home Affairs, so cost savings, including on printing and communications, and on the provision of mobile polling places, had been implemented to come to the final figure. On this point, the Professor stated that in his view, it is his responsibility to bring the election in "on budget", as it currently stands.

Continuing on this issue, Ms van Wyk (UDM) commented that as an independent body the IEC is in a difficult budgetary position, which is a concern with regard to ensuring that rural communities are covered. Mr. Pretorius (NNP) wondered whether the IEC budget could not be broken out from the Home Affairs budget, but an ANC member noted that the failed attempts by Judge Krigler, the Professor's predecessor, to accomplish this had led to the Judge's departure from the position.

After thanking the IEC officials for their time, and noting that consideration of the Home Affairs budget by the Parliament is now scheduled for May 12 (and that the Committee would likely next meet on April 4), the Chair adjourned the meeting.

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