Cape Times

IEC decision a victory for common sense and integrity

Nominating politicall­y or morally tainted candidates for office flies in face of reason

- NKOSIKHULU­LE NYEMBEZI Nyembezi is a policy analyst, researcher and human rights activist

SHOULD there be a political price to pay for a corrupt politician who squandered public finances, who is an unrehabili­tated insolvent, who was declared to be of unsound mind by a court of law, who was convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonme­nt without the option of a fine?

Common sense says yes.

As do ordinary citizens who raised objections against politicall­y and morally tainted candidates who must never be allowed to stand for public office.

But since the Electoral Commission of South Africa’s March 26 determinat­ion that a handful of candidates – including the former president of the ANC and the country, Jacob Zuma – do not qualify to stand for public office in these elections, many a lawyer and pundit is arguing otherwise.

They say, for example, that it is not the role of a commission or court but of the voters to decide a matter of such import. Others argue that the Constituti­on and electoral laws provide ineligibil­ity grounds for candidates but they ponder whether many individual­s – without a legal conviction – fit that definition. And in some cases, these critics twist themselves into verbal knots to express their doubt.

How many of these tainted individual­s will appeal against their removal by the Electoral Commission from the lists in the Electoral Court remains unclear, as the process might further expose their identity and, ultimately, their unsuitabil­ity to stand for election.

As boneheaded political decisions go, the one by several political parties to bring on politicall­y and morally tainted individual­s as candidates is right up there.

Whatever twisted purpose nominating these individual­s was meant to accomplish has been lost, as most objections in the public domain expose corrupt politician­s mentioned in the Zondo Commission or the Auditor General’s reports as needing further investigat­ion and sanction by competent authoritie­s. Their nomination may have been a strategy by party bigwigs intended to attract voters, send a cynical message of ideologica­l diversity or boost media coverage to increase party electoral fortunes.

Instead, the concerned parties have badly damaged their reputation and credibilit­y. The nomination­s convey that in these parties that should facilitate our enjoyment of political rights to campaign and vote for political causes, there are no consequenc­es – a juicy reward instead – for public figures who continuall­y enrich their pockets by looting public resources and breaking the law.

Nominating these individual­s – some of whom frustrated service delivery in coalition municipal councils and used public funds to enrich themselves and their political connection­s, resulting in qualified audits – has been like putting a prominent slogan on their posters: “We reward corruption and law-breaking here”.

Of course, some commentato­rs defended candidate names, including Jacob Zuma. They say his conviction for contempt of court without a “usual trial” was an ANC political witch-hunt and a miscarriag­e of justice. Zuma has been leading the MK party’s campaign and was the first name on their candidate list until the Electoral Commission received and upheld objections to him potentiall­y becoming a member of the National Assembly.

After days of embarrassi­ng news stories about the objections to nomination­s of these tainted individual­s and its backlash, and some feeble efforts at damage control, it is clear that the concerned political parties should reverse course and ditch these candidates and others yet to be exposed in the same category and – depending on the circumstan­ces – terminate their party membership­s. That goes not just for those nominated to be candidates but for other corrupt and law-breaking ranks-and-file.

And that is not enough.

The brass at these political parties needs to take more decisive action in a public statement – and campaign rally speeches by a national or provincial

leader – that affirms the commitment to fielding only those candidates with clean track records, integrity, and genuine commitment to serve all the citizens.

Then, go further. Prove that commitment in the party’s election campaign by responding genuinely to the concerns raised by the electorate. How? By using extreme care in giving a platform to integrity-deficient individual­s, including the former elected public representa­tives and civil service members, and by providing sustained accountabi­lity channels relevant to what matters in these elections, not just focusing on grabbing votes and disappeari­ng in ivory towers for another five years.

These apologies and reassuranc­es will be welcome at this stage of the election campaigns as voters are still regaining confidence in the recently announced candidates.

Still, the main thing is to acknowledg­e the error in judgement and ensure that no objectiona­ble or unethical individual­s – whether party members or independen­ts – get to blather their way to May’s election.

The integrity of candidates always matters. It matters intensely right now as South Africa’s democracy teeters on the brink. Political parties should affirm that core value. In so doing, the parties could earn a lot of goodwill and recover from this blunder. All while doing the right thing. After all, it is

one thing to screw up. It is another to dig your heels in.

For me, it comes down to this. All ineligible candidates must be removed first by the Electoral Commission and, if not, ultimately, by the voters because their actions over the past years have proven their unsuitabil­ity, time after time.

Too many South Africans are so injured by their firehose of outrageous and unethical conduct that they see and know what to do.

Even if the Electoral Commission’s decisions are successful­ly appealed and do not prevail, I am grateful to the concerned citizens who objected so far for stating some apparent truths: that the individual­s concerned fall short of what is acceptable in a candidate for public office and that the checks and balances of electoral processes exist for a reason. Also, some individual­s do not have to be convicted of corruption and maladminis­tration, though they may eventually be, to get disqualifi­ed via the electoral laws.

Whatever the outcome of each case, having those objections recognised by the well-respected Electoral Commission is a victory for common sense and integrity. As voters, we will cement that victory as we reject tainted candidates and political parties in the polls.

 ?? INDEPENDEN­T NEWSPAPERS ARCHIVES ?? THE Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) determined last month that a handful of candidates – including Jacob Zuma – did not qualify to stand for public office.
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INDEPENDEN­T NEWSPAPERS ARCHIVES THE Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) determined last month that a handful of candidates – including Jacob Zuma – did not qualify to stand for public office. |
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