OPPOSITION TO TACKLE THE IEC
Parties want body to take tougher stance on election practices to protect integrity
Opposition parties are set to push hard to compel the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to take a tougher stance on the ANC’s “campaign methods” in the upcoming municipal elections. Emboldened by the recent Constitutional Court ruling that the IEC could do more to protect the integrity of the country’s elections, the parties are planning to meet when Parliament resumes next month to formulate a plan to take on the elections agency.
They want, among other things, to force the IEC to bar the ANC from using government food parcels as a campaign tool and to end the practice of using members of the ANC-aligned teachers’ union, Sadtu, as election staff.
The IEC has, over the years, developed a practice of roping in teachers as assistants during election times because they are generally the most literate in many communities. But opposition parties have claimed Sadtu members performing this role abuse their positions at voting stations and counting centres to favour the ANC.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said the intention was to collectively consolidate their action plan after several letters written to the elections body over the past few months had not received any positive response.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane expressed frustration that the money other parties put into electioneering was unfairly dwarfed by the ANC’s use of government resources, such as food parcels and signing up people for social grants, during election campaigns. The ANC has consistently denied this charge.
IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi told City Press on the sidelines of the elections launch that his party had petitioned the IEC, seeking a commitment that they would not employ known Sadtu activists and would monitor the abuse of state resources.
“Those shenanigans must be stopped. It has long been a fallacy that elections have been free and fair,” said Buthelezi.
Last year, Buthelezi wrote to his opposition colleagues urging them to fight as a collective.
The IFP has briefed its lawyers on the matter while Holomisa said legal opinion would be sought if the IEC continued to ignore their concerns.
Buthelezi said he hoped the ANC would heed this week’s warning by National Treasury to municipalities to avoid using state resources to favour incumbent administrations during election time.
“I hope that will break the conscience of the ruling party,” he said.
Holomisa, who was central in the removal of former IEC chairperson Pansy Tlakula, said the agency’s failure to give firm commitments on key concerns was indicative of its capture by the ANC.
“The IEC is not showing any willingness to commit. When we all return to Parliament, we will definitely be looking into that. It’s an issue we want to resolve once and for all,” he said.
“We are dealing with ANC sympathisers. They are ANC employees and will never raise a hand against the ANC ... What we need is a collective approach to the IEC and to send a strong message that we will find it difficult to participate if they still use teachers.”
IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini, a former adviser to President Jacob Zuma, said yesterday the commission had long-established channels to address matters raised by any political parties or candidates.
“We consider the political parties our clients and, as such, it is inappropriate to be engaging with them via the media,” he said.
Last month, Sadtu’s national executive committee said the union would legally challenge “discrimination [against] teachers based on union affiliation” and said the union’s members had as much right as any other citizen to be appointed by the IEC. It said teachers from other unions were also employed as election officers, but “only Sadtu members are targeted”.
The IEC has previously dismissed demands to prohibit the use of state resources to campaign or use Sadtualigned staff, saying its credibility and impartiality as an elections agency were beyond reproach.
However, last year’s damning Constitutional Court judgment on the election agency’s handling of 2013 byelections in Tlokwe has put the IEC on the back foot.
The judgment seemed to widen the test of the credibility of elections, which the IEC previously limited to the materiality of any irregularities discovered – that is, whether or not they changed the outcome of an election.
The renewed pressure from opposition parties is most likely causing headaches for Mashinini, who is yet to earn the trust of opposition parties.
Holomisa said he was unhappy that Mashinini had postponed the meetings scheduled with him.
“I don’t know how many times he has cancelled meetings to come and see us. I really don’t know why. Maybe we are not important stakeholders.”
Mashinini said meetings with stakeholders were ongoing, “subject to mutually agreed schedules”.
COMMON CAUSE The EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi shares a moment with IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi at the launch of the 2016 IEC electoral campaign at Gallagher Estate in Midrand. Opposition parties are planning to formulate a plan to take on the elections agency