Sunday Times

Direct elections will lead to more accountabi­lity, Mmusi Maimane writes

- By MMUSI MAIMANE ✼ Maimane is chief activist of the One SA Movement

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

 ?? Picture : Alon Skuy ?? A judgment has opened the way for a change in elections, with voters being offered the chance to elect and hold accountabl­e a named candidate, not a political party’s faceless list.
Picture : Alon Skuy A judgment has opened the way for a change in elections, with voters being offered the chance to elect and hold accountabl­e a named candidate, not a political party’s faceless list.

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