Daily Maverick

Low trust in IEC could lead to political conflict, researcher warns

- By Nonkululek­o Njilo

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.

 ?? Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA ?? People queue to vote in the 2011 local government elections at a church in Alexandra, Joburg.
Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA People queue to vote in the 2011 local government elections at a church in Alexandra, Joburg.

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