One year into President Jacob Zuma's administration, the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa (EISA) launched the ‘Election Update South Africa 2009'.
The update was a collection of individually produced monthly updates focused around the 2009 national and provincial elections. The report, upon reflection, sought ways in which the electoral process, in the South African context, could be improved by means of identifying the system's weaknesses and highlighting its strengths.
The launch of the report coincided with a seminar organised by the EISA titled ‘The future of elections as an instrument of democratic political contestation in South Africa: Perspectives on political contestation and emergent trends'. It featured a panel of commentators on the report, including: Professor Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand and Dr Brigalia Bam, chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
Upon presentation of the Election Update, EISA governance institutions and process manager Ebrahim Fakir outlined the key objectives and recommendations in the report. One of the key objectives was to track electoral trends in South Africa since 1994.
Upon inspection, some interesting trends emerged from the analysis, including: an increase in voter participation, the reduction of interparty conflict, and an increase in political campaigning by the parties.
Booysen examined some policy recommendations derived from the update. The first was regarding Section 24 of the Electoral Act, No 73 of 1998, which makes it possible for people to vote outside their ward or area for elections. Both Booysen and Bam argued that the Act placed too much unnecessary strain on the electoral system and might cause unwanted irregularities. It was agreed that the section should be reassessed prior to the upcoming 2011 local government elections.
Another issue was that of political party funding. It was argued that the Parliamentary funding process for parties needed to be more transparent and managed in a way that the ruling party did not use the funds to entrench its own dominance.
Bam continued from where Booysen left off and reiterated the problematic nature of Section 24. Bam's concerns with the country's election process were mainly with the structures and processes of the IEC.
Although she emphasised the importance of the Commission's independence under the Constitution, she said that there was still room for improvement in terms of its internal structure. In this light, she said that the impartiality of the IEC ground staff could be improved and protected in the face of increasing political party pressure. Further, she argued that despite other countries using civil servants to operate voting stations, South Africa employed independent candidates with little experience in the field and who therefore required further training, which was a costly exercise.
Outside the Commission, Bam called for the introduction of a screening process for political candidates. Her comments came in the context of the recent African National Congress (ANC) candidate in a Kloof by-election, who had a criminal record. Bam thus called for greater control and selection criteria for who can represent communities politically.
Although Bam echoed many of Booysens' sentiments regarding the country's electoral process, both were complimentary of the IEC's achievements since 1994. Some of the successes included: maintaining a high, and growing, voter participation rate, ensuring the Commission's independence and the admirable work done by the Inter-Party Liaison Committee that facilitated interparty relations and avoided any major violent disputes.