Direct elections will lead to more accountability, Mmusi Maimane writes
There exists in company law a notion called “piercing the corporate veil” that is instructive when considering how to advance our democracy and hold political leaders to account. The remedy allows a company’s creditors to, in certain circumstances, ignore a company as a separate responsible entity and go straight to the actors behind the company — directors, shareholders and the like. It both prevents individuals from hiding behind the company when performing devious acts, and reveals who the accountable individuals truly are.
In considering the state of SA’s governance — and our body politic as a whole — the pertinent question remains: what is the most prudent, credible and workable way to fix the mess? Another political party? Electing one of the currently unelectable opposition parties? Installing another Ramaphosalike figure that promises reform within the ANC? Frankly, none of these are an option. So where to?
The fault in the fabric of our political system is the absence of meaningful accountability. From the arms deal to the vaccine rollout, to pit toilets, basic service delivery failure, billions “lost” to corruption and electricity crises, we face monumental governance failures daily, yet no-one accounts and no-one pays the price.
This is where we can learn from the company law remedy and usher in a new system whereby citizens are empowered to pierce the political veil and hold names and faces to account. More so, to move from a monologue to a dialogue between citizens and their elected leaders throughout a term of office.
Direct elections allow for this and are the remedy the One SA Movement is pursing with vigour: stripping away the political party “veil” and directly electing individuals who are directly accountable to their constituencies. Cutting out the middlemen — the political brokers and merchants of division — and allowing for responsive, transparent leadership in government.
Following the historic Constitutional Court ruling in the New Nation Movement case last year, this is a reality on the horizon. Parliament has been ordered to change the law to allow for individuals to run for seats in national and provincial legislatures, opening the possibility of electing citizen-led governments instead of political party-led governments.
Since then, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has set up a ministerial advisory committee to advise on how to adhere to the Constitutional Court judgment and change our electoral system. The One SA Movement has been invited to be a key stakeholder in this process. More importantly, the minister has committed to meeting the July 2022 deadline to change the law. With our direct elections bill currently before parliament, the process is well under way. The bill gives effect to the Constitutional Court ruling by allowing independents to stand for election; ensuring smaller national parliament and provincial legislatures; introducing an open and transparent party list system and constituency-based elections made up of 52 constituencies; and a single transferable vote so as to ensure no votes are wasted.
This is all wonderfully positive news and illustrates how the next national and provincial elections in 2024 could be a watershed moment in defining our country’s future. However, what about now? How can such a concept be proved effective, and, crucially, bought into by the electorate?
This year’s local government elections provide an opportunity to demonstrate this concept, as independent candidates are permitted to run at local level. The One SA Movement has decided to partner with a host of like-minded organisations to identify, train, equip and support excellent individuals to stand as independent candidates in their wards. This will require a collaborative effort from all of society — a movement of many stakeholders including business, civil society, religious bodies and political players.
To strengthen the case for independents and to ensure no vote is wasted in terms of the proportional representation (PR) system, we have extended our reach to identify specific municipalities where we will support groupings of candidates in — municipalities that are failing and can be turned around by citizen-led governments. This will be done via section 15A of the Electoral Commission Act.
In terms of this provision, an organisation or movement can participate in municipal elections in a specific municipality. Using this provision, municipal residents can prepare for independent candidates to stand for election in various wards, while also registering as a conglomerate of independent candidates to gain the benefit of the PR vote. This will enable a citizen-led organisation to win control of municipal wards, and an entire municipality, thereby forming a citizen-led government. The goal is to prove the concept as a microcosm of what could be achieved at national government level in 2024 and beyond.
Recently the One SA Movement met with a number of civic organisations to formalise a collaboration in targeted areas across SA.
Citizens directly electing their public representatives is the answer. This is so that when an MP speaks in parliament, or a councillor in council, the people of their community are represented. And when an individual fails the people, they are removed. No more hiding behind political parties.
The current closed party list system, which has governed our elections for the past 27 years, has weakened our democracy and created a chasm between the people and those in power. Now is the time we take back our power, building a new road to change. Direct elections is that new road.
We face monumental governance failures daily, yet no-one accounts and no-one pays the price