Analysis

It is Election Year and SA Constitution is Open to Abuse

By Sam Ditshego

This year is election year for South Africa and several other countries on the continent and around the world. There are different ways of ordering the holding of elections. In Commonwealth (which some people prefer to call Common-theft) countries writs of elections are the usual mechanism by which general elections are called and are issued by the head of state or their representative.

In South Africa it is the head of state who declares an election. Bizarrely this head of state is also the head of the ruling party, he is referee and player, judge and jury. We are basically waiting for the President of the ruling ANC to declare the election date whose party is also a contestant in those elections. This head of state, just like his predecessors, is going to call for an election during the time that is favourable to his party. Yet there are many people who mouth us the mantra that “South Africa has the best constitution in the world”.

In Australia and Canada the head of state is the Governor General and in Britain it is the Queen of England. These are not political offices. The writ of election is issued after dissolution of parliament. In South Africa I do not remember hearing about the dissolution of parliament as if its five year term does not elapse.

In the countries mentioned in the foregoing lines, except South Africa, there are fixed election dates but it doesn’t mean Heads of State or Chief Electoral Officers cannot call for an early election. In South Africa elections are called on the whims or discretion of the head of state.

The media, both public and private, are also capricious as to which political parties to give coverage. They do not do it out of the public good. Moreover, owners of the corporate media such as, for example, eNCA and Google wallow in the erroneous belief that they can pick and choose which political parties to cover. The private media does not have the luxury of picking and choosing just because it is privately owned. It has an obligation to inform the public without being tendentious. Documentaries about ANC leaders are all of a sudden springing up all over the media such as the one about OR Tambo on Power FM. Because it is election time, Power FM should play documentaries about PAC and BCM leaders especially because they are not as insipid as the one they played last week. Just imagine if they can play a recording of PAC founding President Robert Sobukwe’s 1959 inaugural address with his powerful voice, edifying and revolutionary message!

Pollsters are having a field day churning out through the mainstream media misleading opinion polls and surveys on how political parties are going to perform in this year’s election. In fact, these are subtle ways of subliminally instilling in the minds of the uninitiated which political parties to vote for. It is an old trick that has been used over the years. Even radio and television hosts deliberately or inadvertently mention or display the so-called three big political parties which I am not going to mention here since they enjoy copious and superfluous coverage in the mainstream media to bolster these parties’ poll positions.

When they solicit the views of the electorate as to which political parties they are going to vote for, they do not pose the question: which political party are you going to vote for and leave it at that. They mention those so-called three big political parties and inquire from voters which of the three parties they are going to vote for. That is not polling or finding out the views of the electorate, it is subliminally instilling in their minds which political parties to vote for. If these pollsters are honestly trying to find out which political parties the electorate prefer then they must mention all the parties or none at all.

There is also the constant refrain that the ruling party is going to garner sixty percent of the vote. To the novices who do not want to vote for the ruling party for one reason or the other, this could discourage them from voting by telling themselves why they should vote when it is a foregone conclusion that the party they abhor is going to win the elections anyway. These polls are meant to confuse novices and subliminally instill views in the minds of unsuspecting voters. Funding is also skewed. Yet one will hear the trite and tired phrase, “elections in South Africa are free and fair”. Free and fair!

South Africa’s constitution must be drafted from scratch so that we do not have a head of state who has a political axe to grind in the electoral system. The media must give fair coverage to all or none. Opinion polls should not be allowed nine months prior to elections. Lying that SASSA grants come from the ruling party must constitute an offence tantamount to corruption. Conflation of party and state in which the President, Cabinet Ministers, provincial legislature and local government politicians dip into state coffers to fund their election campaigns should be declared illegal and punishable by law.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is funded by the ANC government. The adage ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ holds water. The IEC is not independent of and from the government of the day. IEC officials invariably fail to punish the ruling party and its members for transgressing electoral laws and code of conduct.

We should strive to have truly free and fair elections in which every person’s vote counts.

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