Electoral Bill: discussion

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11 August 1998
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
12 August 1998
ELECTORAL BILL: DISCUSSION

Documents handed out:
Proposed Amendments to Electoral Bill: 12/8/98
IEC Draft Application form for registration as voter

SUMMARY
The subject of this meeting was a set of amendments proposed to the Electoral Bill [B69-98]. Opposition party members expressed their concerns about several provisions and their support for other provisions. The meeting concluded with an agreement to meet Thursday, 13 August to deliberate and vote on the Bill clause by clause. The Bill will most likely be discussed in Parliament on Tuesday, 18 August.

DETAILED MINUTES
The meeting was opened by the Chairperson, Mr. Desmond Lockey of the ANC. The Chairperson explained that the purpose of the meeting was to review a set of proposed amendments to the Electoral Bill. The discussion that ensued can be divided into 4 segments, indicated by the headings below.

1. New Clause: Voting by Means of Declaration Vote
A new clause was proposed to follow clause 32. The clause states that a person unable to vote in the voting district in which s/he is registered may apply to vote at any other polling station in the province in which s/he is registered.

A National Party MP criticized this clause sharply, expressing the concern that allowing persons to vote outside their district will encourage them to vote elsewhere and may allow voting more than once. In addition to the danger of multiple voting, there is the problem that polling stations will not know how many voters to expect and will have to have a number of ballot papers well in excess of the number of registered voters in the voting district. This is more expensive and increases the possibility of vote fraud.

The Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission, Judge Kriegler, declined to take a position on the clause immediately but expressed the concern that problems could arise if people could vote at any station because the polling stations will be less prepared and more vulnerable to manipulation. Judge Kriegler went on to suggest that people who will be out of their voting district should ask for permission to vote elsewhere in advance.

An ANC committee member, Mr. Chikane, responded that everyone has a right to vote, and provision must be made to guarantee this right. He cited the instance of a mother who has to take her sick child to the hospital on election day as an example of a circumstance that this clause would cover. Mr. Chikane stated that the committee should rely more on people’s good faith.

A National Party committee member scoffed at the idea of relying on people’s good faith and stated that his party opposed the clause.

The Democratic Party committee member, Ms. Smuts, stated that a woman caring for her sick child in the hospital is unlikely to be concerned about voting. She expressed her party’s opposition to the clause.

An Inkatha Freedom Party representative stated that his party also opposed the clause, asserting that people should vote where they are registered.

An NP representative stated that he was dismayed that a clause which threatened to undermine the entire electoral process was introduced without consultation of other parties.

The Chairperson stated his concern that parties had adopted positions so rapidly, noting that the clause required further debate.

2. New Clause: Party Funding
A new clause was proposed to follow clause 105. The clause states that a fund to support the campaigns of parties contesting national and provincial elections is to be established using government money. The fund will be divided into two parts:
1) an initial award of 5% divided equally among the parties that qualify for payment from the fund, and
2) a final award consisting of 95% of the fund, payable to every party allocated at least one seat in the legislature for which the party campaigned, on a basis proportional to the number of seats allocated to all such parties

The Chairperson explained that this clause applied to the R55 million allocated in the government’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework for next fiscal year, not to the R53 million allotted for expenditure this year. This latter amount would be allocated according to the legislation already in place.

Ms. Smuts (DP) expressed approval of the clause, stating that it was similar to a proposal made by the DP in the past.

In response to a question from an IEC representative, the Chairperson noted that the division of the funds would be made proportional to the total number of seats in the national legislature and all nine provincial legislatures.

No members of the committee expressed opposition to this clause.

3. New Clause: Composition of National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures
A new clause was proposed to follow clause 112. The clause sets out a new schedule to follow schedule 2. The schedule specifies formulae for calculating the number of members of the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures. The number of seats in the National Assembly is to be determined by awarding one seat for every 100,000 of the population with a minimum of 350 and a maximum of 400, as provided by the Constitution. The schedule includes the proviso that if the number of seats for all provincial legislatures exceeds 400, then the National Assembly must have not less than 400 seats. The number of seats in each provincial legislature is to be determined by awarding one seat for every 100,000 of the population with a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 80 seats, as provided for in the Constitution.

The Chairperson stated that the ANC wished to maintain the status quo in the size of the NA and the provincial legislatures. He noted that the formula in the clause would allow the NA to stay the same, and would increase the number of provincial seats by 6 or 7. He noted that the constitution size limits on provincial legislatures would require that the Western Cape legislature be reduced by one seat and the Gauteng legislature by six seats.

The National Party expressed support for maintaining the status quo in size of the NA and the provincial legislatures.

Ms. Smuts contended that the National Assembly should be smaller, noting that Colin Eglin had developed a formula for that putting the size of the National Assembly at around 350 to 360.

Judge Kriegler asked if the formula would remain in place for every election or would change at each election.

The Chairperson responded that the system was likely to change, particularly as there was some discussion of altering the electoral system in the next elections to allow for a mixed system of direct and proportional representation.

An IEC representative noted that the current census suggests that the South African population was about 38 million, which would result in fewer than 400 seats.

The Chairperson responded that it the number of population per seat could be shifted from 100,000 to 90,000 or 95,000 to ensure that the NA retained 400 seats.

Another IEC representative noted that this problem would be addressed by the proviso stating that the NA must not have fewer than 400 seats if the provincial legislatures have more than 400. He stated that provincial legislatures currently have 435 seats and would have at least this many and probably 6 to 7 more after the next elections.

The Chairperson withdrew his suggestion. The committee accepted the schedule as it was.

4. Other Matters
Several minor matters related to the Bill and the electoral process were discussed.

The Chairperson asked if spouses of South Africans on official duty overseas would be allowed to vote and if special mention of them needed to be made in the Bill. Judge Kriegler noted that he recommended including as much specificity as possible in the Bill rather than pushing it into the regulations. It was agreed to include a provision covering spouses of overseas officials in the Bill.

A representative of the IEC noted several small technical changes that had been made in the electoral Bill, involving demarcation of polling stations with tape and provision to deal with people who arrive late at the polling station.

The DP committee member expressed concern that the 90 day period with which a new election could be held in the event of the determination that a voting district’s process was not free and fair was too long. She suggested a 30 or 60 day limit instead.

An NP committee member asked what would happen if a voter arrived at the polling station without an ID. The Chairperson responded that this issue would be dealt with in the regulations that follow legislation.

Another NP committee member suggested that as a control measure, the sticker in a voter’s ID book showing the polling station information should be stamped.

Judge Kriegler noted that the IEC was investigating the ink used by the Indian government in its elections to mark the fingernails of voters, stating that it was apparently effective and reliable.

The Chairperson noted that the ANC supported hand marking and did not think that expensive invisible ink was necessary in this election as there was currently no threat to voters.

Finally, the Chairperson asked the committee to meet again either Thursday 13 August or Friday 14 August to deliberate on the Bill clause by clause, as the Bill was scheduled for debate in Parliament on Tuesday the 18th and the weekend was needed to finalize technical details. The IFP and DP accepted. The NP initially resisted, but eventually agreed reluctantly to meet on Thursday the 13th at 14h30 in the same venue. [Ed. Note: 13/8/98 meeting subsequently cancelled]

Judge Kriegler noted that he and his colleagues from the IEC would be available for consultation at any time before the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

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