Low trust in IEC could lead to political conflict, researcher warns
As the country gears up towards the 2024 general elections, research suggests that the risk of political unrest may be high. The warning comes as Parliament is yet to finalise an important piece of legislation, the Electoral Amendment Bill, whose deadline is now set for 10 December.
Speaking at an Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) seminar on “Safeguarding Electoral Democracy in the Age of Growing Mistrust” on 20 September, Ebrahim Fakir of the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute in Africa called for the establishment of new systems.
“With a potentially new electoral system on the horizon for the 2024 election, the risk of unpreparedness and potential for precipitating political conflict are high, requiring the establishment of new administrative and management systems,” he said.
“The link between election integrity, institutional credibility and political violence is not tenuous or fragile and isolated.”
Fakir’s research focused extensively on the decline in trust and credibility of the IEC and what caused it.
“In contra-distinction to the period coming into the 2021 local government elections, historically the IEC enjoyed unparalleled high levels of trust and confidence and a solid (even stellar) domestic and international reputation.
“The IEC has consistently received healthy approval ratings, with majority support from more than twothirds (60%) of the adult population since 2016 till at least 2021, as shown by both the Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC’s) South African Social Attitudes Survey and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation Afrobarometer.”
Meanwhile, the HSRC found that political coercion had increased since 2009 to more than a tenth. HSRC research director Dr Ben Roberts said the coercion came mostly from family and friends. “This needs to be monitored in coming elections,” he said.
Another phenomenon that ought to be monitored, according to Roberts, is the historic low voter turnout of 46.68% recorded nationally in the 2021 local government elections.
“The dynamics that contributed to the low turnout scenario seen in the 2021 local elections will become especially crucial for the 2024 elections and beyond,” said Roberts.
“The debate needs to urgently turn to what needs to be done to move us from the current scenario and restore the faith of the growing number of disaffected democrats in the country.”
This was of great importance particularly for the country’s youth, many of whom are disengaging from voting, he added.