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Call for municipal elections to be held over three days due to Covid-19

File image. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Opposition parties divided over IEC’s attempt to postpone local government polls until February next year.

The IFP wants the local government elections to be held over three days to minimise the number of people gathering to cast their votes on each day.

IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa has told the Constitutional Court that that the party supports the Electoral Commission of SA’s (IEC’s) application to have the local government elections postponed until February 2022, as recommended by a panel headed by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, last month.

The commission has approached the apex court to have the municipal polls scheduled for October 27 to be moved to February next year, largely due to Covid-19, though the IFP wants the elections to be held no later than May 2022.

According to Hlabisa, a four-month delay from October this year to February 2022 is insufficient time to properly assess and make arrangements for a safe election.

”Equally, the IFP would suggest that the elections be held over three days so as to minimise the number of people being called upon to vote on any particular day,” reads Hlabisa’s founding affidavit in the IFP’s application to intervene in the matter.

He continued: “The IFP does not believe any rational respondent would oppose the relief deferring the election until a date when it is safer for there to be public participation en masse especially where is likely to draw the participation of approximately 15 million people”.

The IFP likened offering 15 million citizens the right to vote against the risk they may contract Covid-19 is tantamount to asking them to decide with a loaded firearm pointed at them.

Opposition parties are divided over the IEC’s Constitutional Court application to have the local government elections postponed until February 2022.

In its application to intervene, the DA accuses the IEC of trying to amend the Constitution and is against the postponement of the elections.

DA MP and the official opposition’s representative in the party liaison committee Werner Horn said the IEC has the ability to ensure that voting will be safe.

”The commission has provided no evidence to suggest that the turnout will be significantly lower because of the pandemic. The experience in by-elections suggests the opposite,” Horn said in the DA’s application to intervene in the matter.

The DA cited the evidence presented before Justice Moseneke’s panel by renowned clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who until March this year was the co-chairperson of the Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee.

”The best time (to hold the elections) is October… October is probably a safer bet than going with December or going with March,” the DA quotes Karim as saying.

According to the party, there is no clear threat to the rights to life, bodily integrity and health – and certainly no threat that could be cured by holding elections in February 2022.

The DA instead has asked the Constitutional Court to have the IEC’s failure to hold a voter registration weekend for the October 2021 election declared unconstitutional and invalid.

It wants the commission to be directed to hold a voter registration weekend on either August 27-29 or September 3-5, this year.

The party also seeks to have Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s proclamation of the election date, earlier this month, declared unconstitutional and invalid.

The Forum 4 Service Delivery, which has 28 councillors in 13 municipalities, believes that any postponement of the elections would intrude, limit or suspend its members’ political rights in terms of the Constitution.

Dlamini Zuma is not opposing the IEC’s application.

However, she said the matter calls for a delicate balance between the need to hold regular free and fair elections, and the constitutional imperative to protect the rights to life, bodily and psychological integrity and access to healthcare services in a context where public finances, and both public and private health care systems are under severe strain as Covid-19 rages across the country.

The matter will be heard next Friday.

The Independent on Saturday

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