The anatomy of South African elections

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There is no doubt that the 1994 elections were rigged because there was no voters roll. It is easy to rig elections when there is no voters roll. Subsequent elections cannot be said to have been free and fair based on a number of factors including skewed funding and the use of state organs to achieve certain objectives by the ruling party. 

A law regulating political party funding has finally been passed although it has loopholes. For example, it does not have a provision for a limit in political party spending. When there is no limit in political party spending, the government of the day would use the advantage of incumbency to outdo other political parties as well as attract funding from other interested parties such as corporations and businesses on a quid pro quo basis. 

The government election funding model is undemocratic and favours the big parties. Under resourced political parties such as, for example, the PAC receives about R300, 000 (three hundred thousand) election fund but is required to pay (six hundred thousand) R600, 000 registration fee. This illogical funding model needs to be revisited and revised.

There is no stringent regulations on the display of posters and other political party regalia and paraphernalia. In other countries, posters should be removed by 12 midnight before Election Day. For example, this year’s elections are going to be held on May 8. By midnight on May 7, all posters must be removed. Posters should not be allowed at or near polling stations. There should be one poster per political party on a lamp pole to allow other political parties to put up their posters. 

It does not make sense that in a country like South Africa where there are about 48 political parties, political parties that are well resourced should put up two posters on the same lamp pole. Political parties such as the ANC, for example, leave their posters on lamp poles for more than three months because they are in charge of many municipalities and are not penalised. Political parties who leave their posters on lamp poles after the elections should be fined per poster per day and the fine must be mandatory. These fines can be a source of revenue for municipalities and job creation for those who will be removing those posters.

Tables set up at polling stations should not be allowed. They could be playing a role in influencing decisions of unsuspecting voters to vote in a particular way. It is only in South Africa where political parties are allowed to canvass for votes on Election Day outside polling stations. This meddling and undemocratic practice must be stopped. It is likely to lead to violent clashes as opposition political parties grow stronger.

Considering that Sakina Kamwendo reported about a year ago about a survey which showed that many South Africans do not know anything about constitutions and do not even know South Africa has a constitution, many of them are influenced at those tables for which parties to vote. Furthermore, one wonders on what information those South Africans base their decisions to vote for this or that party. It would be interesting to know. 

In other countries it is illegal or unlawful to canvass for votes on Election Day. Canvassing for votes should end at midnight before Election Day. In South Africa, political parties, especially the ruling party, canvass for votes in queues at polling stations wearing their party regalia. They also canvass for votes when transporting voters to polling stations. Cars displaying posters drive from one polling station to the other. It is only in banana republics that these things happen. South Africa is a banana republic.

During Special Voting days, it is a mess. I once found election officers at Matlhasedi Primary School in Kagiso couching old people how to vote. Only people who applied to vote on Special Voting days should be allowed to vote and not every person. And the number of those who applied for special votes should be made available to other political parties. But this does not happen. It is important to make those numbers available for purposes of tallying and collating the votes cast. Special Votes and those cast from abroad should be counted separately but this is not what happens in South Africa. After Special Votes are cast where are they kept for the night and are they not susceptible to chicanery?

Votes that are cast from abroad are cast mainly at South African diplomatic missions and nobody knows what happens there, especially because personnel at these missions are partisan and it is known that the ANC government is corrupt if what emerges at the Zondo Commission and other information available to South Africans is anything to go by. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said there were 9000 registered voters in the UK. Are votes cast from abroad also not susceptible to chicanery? Opposition political parties should seek more information on those voters and watch their outcomes with keen interest.

Transporting of ballot papers after voting has taken place from polling stations to regional offices is another questionable aspect of the voting system because the Presiding Officers go alone to the regional offices accompanied only by SAPS and Metro Police. Party agents would have signed result slips and gone home. The Presiding Officers are able to alter the results since most of them are ANC members affiliated to Sadtu. Sending of voting results from all over the country to the IEC Headquarters in Centurion is another more questionable aspect of the voting system. 

Under resourced political parties lose the elections here and at the regional level. They are unable to track the feedback from various parts of the country. The DA, as far as I know, is able to track their votes from all over the country using their own computers. Consequently, they cannot be swindled. Why can’t the results be sent from polling stations directly to the IEC HQ in Centurion?

The IEC concentrates on voters from the urban areas to the detriment of voters from the rural areas. Rural votes are not favourable to the DA and to a lesser extent the ANC. Opposition parties led by African people, the PAC, Azapo etc., should track the feedback of rural votes – the same way the DA does with the urban votes mainly from white suburbs – so that the election results should not be based only on urban votes. This does not suggest that votes from the townships should be neglected. 

Political parties led by African people should make sure that every vote from African people counts. South Africa’s elitist constitution has given African people a raw deal and that should be enough until it is redrafted. It cannot be that even the elections are unfavourable to the African people. I have a strong feeling that there is a gentlemen’s agreement on elections between the ANC and white led political parties such the DA and FF Plus.

The IEC said it was going to print 60 million ballot papers and to my knowledge no political party objected to this. Why should the IEC print so many ballot papers? There is no good reason why the IEC should print so many ballot papers if it does not intend rigging elections. And who prints those ballot papers and supplies computers and its software to the IEC? Opposition political parties worth their salt should demand and be furnished with this information. Running elections is not and should not be the exclusive prerogative of the IEC and ANC government.

Finally, ballot papers must be serialised like paper money or currency to make it easy to trace and track them. Each and every ballot paper including spoilt ballot papers must be accounted for. The election process should not be made cumbersome. Electoral reform in South Africa is long overdue.

Sam Ditshego is an independent researcher.