Yes, IEC is ready for early polls

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

There have recently been calls from both within the ANC-SACP- Cosatu alliance and without, that President Thabo Mbeki should relinquish his position.

Only last week the DA said: "Mbeki should go and go now."

In supporting its call, the party said South Africans have lost confidence in Mbeki because of the way he handled the crisis in Zimbabwe and his alleged protection of suspended National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi.

Evidence heard at the Ginwala Commission of Inquiry into the suspension of NPA boss Vusi Pikoli suggested that Mbeki took that route because Pikoli issued a warrant of arrest for Selebi.

Section 50 of the Constitution makes provision for the dissolution of Parliament if the majority of its members support such a resolution.

If this happens, it means South Africa would have to hold an early election.

The provision is that an election must be held within 90 days after the dissolution, so one could be held as early as August this year.

The question is, is South Africa ready?

Pansy Tlakula, chief executive of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the body responsible for the running elections, says they are ready.

Tlakula says preparations for an election start immediately after the last election ends.

"We are almost done with the process of procuring election material, including ballot boxes, paper and scanning equipment," Tlakula says.

She says voter registration has started with the aim of registering all eligible voters, estimated at 22 million.

She says there is an intensive drive to get people between the ages of 18 and 35 to register.

This is part of a campaign to get more people to vote because "the youth must exercise their right to vote for the kind of leadership they want".

The drive to increase registration is also aimed at countering the high rate of attrition on the voters' roll.

"We have a high death rate in the country - estimated at between 30000 and 45000 a month," Tlakula says.

She says given 90 days to deliver an early election, the IEC will have sufficiently updated the voters' roll to deliver an election that is a fair reflection of what the South Africa electorate wants.

She says the biggest challenge is to get the youth to vote. To achieve this the commission has embarked on youth-targeting strategies such as television programmes involving youth participation in civil matters and developing a Facebook used as a forum for youth engagement.

Tlakula says youth apathy is self-defeating.

"Young people must not have a myopic view of participating in elections," she says. "They must make it their business to vote because it is their duty to ensure that they elect a credible leadership.

"Apathy could never develop quality leadership.".

But Tlakula believes that on the whole South Africa has done well in previous elections when it comes to voter turnout. In 2004 voter turnout was 78 percent, compared with 61 percent in the US.

Tlakula says the role of the media in promoting electoral democracy is a major concern.

Speaking at a recent workshop in Pretoria on preparations for the 2009 election, she raised this concern - especially about the role of the print media.

She believes there should be some sort of regulation of the commercial media and public broadcasters in covering elections. The nexus of her argument is that the media should play "a developmental role" in elections.

This means the media must ensure that voters know everything about all the parties because only then can they make informed decisions about who to vote for.

Tlakula says "when stories compete on the basis of newsworthiness" it leads to certain parties, especially the smaller ones, not being given any coverage.

She proposes that there should be some kind of an electoral code of conduct for the media during elections.

South African Editors Forum chairman Mathatha Tsedu says her proposition is not "unreasonable".

Tsedu says: "The IEC should put the proposition to Sanef for discussion."

Sanef chairman Jovial Rantao says the media practises self-regulation when covering news, including the elections.

"In providing this much-needed service to citizens, our readers, viewers and listeners (voters to the IEC), we rely on our bible - a sacrosanct book of ethics - as a source of guidance," he says.

Rantao says that in every article published there is accuracy, fairness, balance and impartiality.

"If these pillars were to collapse our credibility would follow and that would be the end of us."