Exploring the impact of electoral reform on every South African citizen

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Electoral reform is crucial in transforming South Africa’s democracy. Former member of the Independent Electoral Commission, Terry Tselane, and Senior lecturer at University of Pretoria, Dr. Sithembile Mbete participated in a panel discussion focused on the recent electoral reforms and their implications, specifically the inclusion of independent candidates in the closed list proportional representation system. Tselane emphasized the long-standing efforts to establish a fair electoral system, while Mbete expressed concerns about the Electoral Amendment Act potentially benefiting political parties. Despite the complexity of the reform process, Tselane and Dr. Mbete remained hopeful for broader electoral reforms in the future elections.

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In this interview, part two of the 6-part series with Kagiso Trust, focuses on electoral reform in South Africa and its potential impact on the country’s politics. The guests, Terry Tselane and Dr. Sithembile Mbete, discuss the reasons behind the need for electoral reform and the challenges associated with its implementation.

Tselane highlights two main reasons for electoral reform: the long-standing advocacy by pressure groups and a Constitutional Court judgment requiring the inclusion of independent candidates at the national and provincial levels. While independent candidates can already participate at the local government level, the reform aims to extend this opportunity to higher levels of government.

Dr. Mbete explains that electoral reform, specifically allowing independent candidates, is essential for fulfilling the political rights of South African citizens. It promotes direct accountability between voters and their representatives, bypassing the influence of political parties. However, she raises concerns about the chosen electoral system, which maintains the closed list proportional representation with minor changes. This system may still favor political parties over independent candidates.

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The interview also addresses challenges in implementing the reform, such as demarcating constituencies and providing adequate time for independent candidates to campaign. Tselane suggests using existing boundaries, like municipal and district boundaries, to expedite the process. However, the complexity of the new system and the lack of sufficient civic education pose difficulties for both independent candidates and voters.

Regarding the potential impact of the reform, Dr. Mbete believes that the barriers to entry for independent candidates at the national level are significant under the current legislation. Consequently, she does not anticipate major changes in the 2024 elections, with political parties remaining dominant. However, there may be a more direct relationship between independent candidates and voters at the provincial level.

In conclusion, while electoral reform in South Africa aims to increase inclusivity and direct accountability, the current legislation and challenges in implementation may limit the impact in the upcoming elections. The need for civic education, media involvement in dissemination of information and further discussions on the electoral system remain crucial for meaningful reform.

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