By Dr Michael Louis
Today’s victory in the Constitutional Court heralding the constitutional right of independents to stand is a big victory for courageous civil society and the long-standing fight for giving power back to the people.
It’s a game changer !
It is encouraging to know that civil society is not scared to take on challenges to confront the state if it believes it has encroached our vested human rights as given to us by the Constitution. It is also encouraging to confirm that we live in a constitutional democracy and that our rights are protected.
This battle has been a collective legal battle of many interest groups over four years which sought to challenge the right of individuals to stand in accordance with section 19(3)(b) of the constitution. This section enables citizens to stand for public office, but not in line with the Electoral Act. I have always been of the impression that the constitutional writers’ intention was that “the people must govern”.
The current Electoral Act, as it is structured, makes representation one step removed from the electorate and allows the country to be governed by a small minority of individuals. The judgment could not be more relevant and its timing perfect in light of our experience with the overreach of Government powers in the past few months regarding the regulations relating to the Covid pandemic.
The current closed party list system has governed our elections the past 27 years and has the effect of political parties choosing their representatives and not the electorate. It gives rise to factionalism in situations where the best person for the position is not necessarily chosen for the position. This makes an individual beholden to the party and leadership, rather than the voters, and places party politics and loyalty above effectiveness and delivery.
The greatest weakness of the closed party system is that it does not ensure individual accountability to the electorate. Most members do not know who their representatives are in Parliament. In the current electoral system, constituency offices do exist, but most people do not know who their constituency representation is and the existence of such offices.
I believe that this judgment is very timeous and that independent candidates will usher in a new way of thinking, a new energy in a very problematic state. Something that is very needed at this time. This is what we do in business. When businesses are struggling, we bring new energy and “positive disruptors” to take the business to a new level. This I believe cannot happen within the ambit of existing parties when your members must toe the party line.
There is a current draft Electoral Laws Bill being finalised by Hon Lekota of Cope by virtue of a Private Member’s Motion presented to Parliament last year. This draft Electoral Bill provides an electoral system for South Africans to exercise the fundamental right to stand in public office in national and provincial elections and, if elected, to hold office and to promote democratic and electoral accountability without having to stand for office through a political party.
The participation of an independent candidate will encourage a substantive increase in wider participation in the democratic process, without being contaminated by party politics, play a meaningful role to in our nation, and formulate best policy to lift the standard of the people in an open and transparent way. This will also result in independent candidates being able to hold the executive accountable, which has proven essential in the current climate.
The draft Electoral Laws Bill also makes provision for a retained proportional representation system, 300 members of Parliament voted by direct representation and 100 by proportional representation. South Africa will be divided into constituencies (52 voting districts established similarly along the current boundaries) as set out by the Demarcation Board. Each voting district will then nominate its parliamentary representative from these districts and not from a common voters roll. This was first recommended by the Van Zyl Commission in 2004 in a majority report, which was never implemented.
In closing, I believe the current looming recession is more than just a financial recession. In the long run, there have been major violations of the basic principles of economic and political prudence. These violations make our current recession a harbinger of the real challenges facing us in the coming years, as a system breaks down on a much more fundamental level. It is called a “debt crisis” but is more than just the issue of public financial insolvency. It is a crisis of the soul and the fundamental human rights of our citizens.
My deepest conviction has always been that as central governments of the world are defunded with Covid-19, the real social and economic energy will be found on the local community level. Power is going local and moving away from the centralisation process. This will create a historic opportunity for all of us to step in to care for social needs on a widespread basis.
I’m more convinced than ever that those who serve most effectively lead the culture. We need to take back our power as citizens and a hold a much higher degree of personal accountability and responsibility to practically respond to the current needs and challenges. The notion that those closest to issues are best equipped to handle them is the only way.
The judgment allows us to continue as citizenry to challenge Parliament and to relook at out Electoral Act in its entirety and fulfil the call “the Government that governs least, governs best!”.
Dr Michael Louis
One South Africa Movement