Vol 1: Issue 29
21 April 2023
THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM PROMOTES A SINGLE-PARTY DOMINATED DEMOCRACY
There is no doubt that the Electoral Amendment Bill assented into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 17 April may still be the subject of litigation. This Amendment is a result of a court action by an entity that was hurriedly formed in 2017. It is called the New Nation Movement. It claims that it is not a political party, but “a no-partisan, all-inclusive people’s movement”. Of interest is that within two years of its formation, this entity had the abundant resources to approach the Western Cape Division of the High Court to declare the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 unconstitutional for forcing “individuals to be elected to the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures only through membership of political parties”.
Upon losing the legal battle at the Western Cape High Court, the entity appealed directly to the Constitutional Court whose ruling on 11 June 2020 was in its favour. In short, the Constitutional Court took the view that the Electoral Act’s requirement that individuals could access National Assembly and the Provincial Legislatures only through membership of political parties limited the section 18 of the Constitution, which is a fundamental right that guarantees freedom of association. The court’s interpretation was that the freedom of association includes the freedom not to associate. This interpretation was extended to deal with section 19 to the effect that “a conscious choice not to form or join a political party is as much a political choice as is the choice to form or join a political party; and it must equally be deserving of political protection”.
By the look of things, the Amendment is not favourable to the Independents. The entry criteria seem quite prohibitive for an individual who “may be nominated to contest in one or more regions but may only be elected to one seat in the National Assembly”. Such an Independent cannot be a member of both the National Assembly and a Provincial Legislature, but only one of the two. They must first campaign to collect signatures that amount to 15% of the number of votes required to get a seat in the previous Elections plus a definite deposit. The way things stand, the Independent may not succeed without forming some organisational structure to help in the campaigning, attending election briefing meetings and appointing agents to guard the votes and observe the counting at the various Voting Districts. All this (and more) amount to the constructive “political-partisation” of the Independent.
Consider further that no matter how many millions of votes an Independent may get, the only ones that will count are those (say 40 000) that constitute ONE seat. The rest of the votes will be distributed to the political parties in accordance with a recognised formula.
However, I am here not so much interested in the legal implications as in the political implications. AZAPO made its voice heard on the issue of the Independents at the time of the Constitutional Court ruling. Despite the principle of a “multiparty democracy”, the court summoned extra creativity to interpret the Constitution in favour of the Independents. Nothing wrong with that. They were conducting an interpretation of the “best Constitution in the world”, of which AZAPO calls for overhaul with sound reasons.
The liberalism of the Constitution comes to the fore where it seeks to create political space for the individual (Independent) alongside, if not over the group (political party). This must be the beginning of the sacrifice of the principle of accountability. It goes without saying that in a multiparty democracy that accountability starts with an individual belonging and being accountable to a political party even though the decisive and ultimate accountability is to the voters. It seems the opening of the electoral space for the Independent is in keeping with the constitutional liberalism that bulldozes the citizens into submission to the principles of liberalisation and deregulation for an “open society”. That “open society” notion is the one that has auctioned Azania to the highest bidder. The Constitution does in fact state that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”.
Whoever ensured that individualism was entrenched in the Constitution knew the cultural implications of undermining the Afrocentric values in group politics. We draw a distinction between an individual and individualism because an individual – not individualism – is to be found in the group. Electoral individualism will find expression through its ally, which I characterise as financial determinism. The majority of Black people will not have the financial resources to actualise the right to access the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures as Independents. Even the few low resolution Black faces we may see would be fronting for white monopoly capital, which continues to undermine the “will of the people” through the dictatorship of financial resources.
The dictatorship of money is rife in the sphere of political parties. Check out the proliferation of liberal political parties in the South African political landscape. Ideologically speaking, a greater number of political parties are towing the same political line. Haven’t you been curious about the DA’s refrain in accusing the ANC of not being keen to implement its (ANC’s) policies? Only recently, the DA was up in arms in defence of Ramaphosa against a faction of the ruling party. What is the ideological difference among the DA, Good, ActionSA, BOSA and the new political parties that always mushroom on the eve of Elections? Same difference. Check out who are their funders. They have more or less the same funders from the white monopoly capital. You may remember that the DA and Agang were forced by their funders to conduct a public kiss against the wishes of the respective party members.
By the way, the Amendment has not spared political organisations like AZAPO that don’t have a seat in the legislatures. Just like the Independents, they are required to campaign twice, so to speak. They have to campaign for that 15% threshold to qualify for nomination. If they obtain the required signature votes for nomination, such signatures would be discarded as they don’t count as the votes for seats. Thereafter, steep amounts of financial deposits would be demanded to ensure organisations like AZAPO don’t have the money to campaign. This is some form of gate-keeping to lock new entrants out of the system.
The electoral system is problematic on at least two grounds. First, it entrenches a single-party dominated democracy through the resources (money, time, etc.) allocations determined on a proportional basis derived from the previous Elections. This is not to say much about the incumbency advantage. Second, the source of funding is mainly the white monopoly capital which (mis-)uses its financial muscle to virtually dictate the outcome of an election at the expense of “the will of the people”. A casual look at the election results will confirm that there is some correlation between monetary inputs and the seat allocation outcomes. As part of the Liberation Movement, AZAPO should not expect even a cent from the financial sources it seeks to transform in favour of Black people. If you consider the white monopoly of the wealth and the means for its creation, one is not sure we could talk about the existence of Black business with confidence. However, Black business has a choice. If it harbours any hope of transforming and deracialising the structure of the economy, it has no choice but to fund organisations like AZAPO. That effort is not complete without the voters using their power to change the lives of Black people for the better. As the freedom fighters who led the liberation struggle to bring about this democracy, organisations like AZAPO are better placed to safeguard the gains of the struggle.