3rd & 4th Constitutional Amendment Bills: discussion

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

02 November 1998
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
3 November 1998
3RD & 4TH CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT BILLS: DISCUSSION

Documents handed out:
3rd & 4th Constitutional Amendment Bills B123-98 and B124-98

SUMMARY
This meeting was convened to discuss B123-98 and B124-98, the proposed third and fourth amendments to the Constitution. These amendments relate to the holding of national and provincial elections. During the meeting, all three opposition parties present (the Inkatha Freedom Party, the National Party, and the Democratic Party) stated that they supported all provisions of both bills except for the first provision of the third amendment bill. This provision amends section 108 of the Constitution, transferring the power to call and set dates for provincial elections from the Premier of the Province to the President of South Africa.

Mr. Watson of the NP proposed that the committee remove the controversial provision and make it a separate constitutional amendment, then vote on the remaining provisions immediately in order to expedite the Independent Electoral Commission’s preparations for the forthcoming elections. This proposal, supported by all opposition parties, was defeated.

Professor du Toit of the ANC proposed that voting on the amendments be postponed until the beginning of the next Parliamentary session to allow for further consultation. This proposal, opposed by all opposition parties, was accepted by the committee.

DETAILED MINUTES

The chair of the committee, Mr. Carrim of the ANC, stated that he and Mr. Titus, the Director-General of the Department of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development, had discussed with the Minister the objections raised by the opposition parties to the first provision of the third Constitutional amendment and the opposition parties’ recommendations to vote on the bills separately. The Minister had made clear that he believed the third and fourth amendments were closely linked and should not be separated. The chair asked the committee to suggest a way of overcoming this impasse.

Professor du Toit of the ANC stated that the linkage between the two amendments was strong. He suggested delaying the vote on the amendments until the beginning of the next Parliamentary session in early 1999 to allow time for more extensive discussion among the parties and with others involved in the electoral process, including the IEC.

The chair stated that these amendments had originally been drafted by the IEC. Nothing had been added or subtracted by the Department.

Mr. Watson objected to the "bullying tactics" that the ANC was using by demanding that the bills be considered jointly.

Mr. Smith of the IFP asserted that Section 108 of the Constitution was drafted in this way for a particular purpose, and he objected to efforts to subvert that purpose. He stated that he was not aware of any provinces which planned to hold elections at a different time than the other provinces.

The chair responded that constitutional amendments are not intended to address short-term problems, but rather to establish guidelines for the long term.

Mr. Botha of the NP stated that the NP opposed the controversial section of the bill because it reduces the power of provincial Premiers with respect to all subsequent elections.

Director-General Titus stated that the proposed amendments do not affect Section 109 of the Constitution. They only apply to Section 108. He echoed the chair’s earlier comment that the amendments were drafted not by government but by the IEC. The IEC’s motivation, he stated, was practical, not political.

Mr. Watson of the NP asked what the consequences would be for the 1999 elections if these amendments were not passed during this session of Parliament. D-G Titus replied that there would be little consequence until the end of February, but after February problems would arise if the amendments were not in place. (After consulting with the IEC, D-G Titus later corrected this statement. He said that the IEC felt it was necessary to announce the election date by the end of March, so the amendments should be passed before the end of March. He also said that even if the amendments were passed now, the IEC would not announce the election date 8 months before the election.)

Mr. Smith of the IFP identified two possible negative effects of failing to pass the amendments immediately. First, it could delay the registration process. Second, it could require some people whose home is in one part of the country but who work or study in another part (like migrant workers and students) to re-register if they find that the election is scheduled for a time when they will not be in the place where they have registered.

Mr. Eglin of the DP stated his perception that all parties agree on all provisions of the amendments except one. He said that he thought the ANC was behaving "churlishly" by preventing passage of all other provisions because of disagreement over a single provision.

D-G Titus stated that Judge Kriegler, head of the IEC, had made it clear that the issue of ensuring that provincial elections were held on the same day was very important. This would reduce costs and enhance voter turnout. Mr. Titus said that Judge Kriegler believed the amendments formed an integrated package which should not be disassembled.

Mr. Watson of the NP proposed that the committee remove the controversial provision and make it a separate constitutional amendment. He proposed an immediate vote on the remaining provisions in order to expedite the Independent Electoral Commission’s preparations for the forthcoming elections. He stated that the committee could then debate the fifth constitutional amendment proposed - transferring power to set the date of provincial elections from the provincial Premier to the President - at length in February.

This proposal was seconded by Mr. Smith of the IFP. Mr. Smith stated that he understood the IEC was desperate to have a date for the elections, and the committee should pass the non-controversial parts of the amendments in order to enable an election date to be set. He argued that the IEC should have the capacity to conduct a provincial election at any time, and should not require that all provinces hold elections at exactly the same time.

The chair stated that this issue was becoming highly politicized, which should be avoided in relation to Constitutional amendments. He stated that the discussion was moving in circles, covering the same ground that had been traversed in private discussion of this Bill among the parties. He said that part of the purpose of this meeting was to open these discussions to the press and public. However, he said, the discussions were not producing new insight.

The chair suggested that further consideration of the bill be postponed until February 1999. Prof. du Toit made a formal motion to this effect.

Mr. Smith stated that he believed the IEC would be "horrified" to learn that the committee delayed adoption of these amendments.

Mr. Smith asked that the two proposals made during the morning be written on paper so that a record of the proceedings is kept. The chair asked Mr. Watson and Mr. du Toit to write their proposals.

The committee voted first on Mr. Watson’s proposal. The vote split along party lines: all six members of the opposition parties voted in favor of the proposal, and all 21 ANC members present voted against the proposal.

The committee voted next on Prof. du Toit’s proposal. All six opposition representatives voted against the proposal, and all 21 ANC members voted for the proposal. Thus additional public discussion and debate on the bill was deferred until the beginning of the next Parliamentary session.

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