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'DA virtual election for leader could be rigged' - candidate Mbali Ntuli

Firebrand former DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli is opposed to DA plans to hold a virtual elective conference
Firebrand former DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli is opposed to DA plans to hold a virtual elective conference

DA leader hopeful Mbali Ntuli has expressed her opposition to plans for the party to have a virtual congress in October — saying that the outcomes of that congress would not be fair to the majority of members.

Ntuli is one of three candidates vying for the position left by Mmusi Maimane when he resigned from the party in October last year.

The others are interim leader John Steenhuisen and Gauteng leader John Moodey.

The party formally announced the plan to have a virtual federal congress last week through the chairperson of its federal council — the highest decision making body in between congresses — Helen Zille.

“Since the start of the hard lockdown the DA has been busy transferring its systems to digital platforms. By the time we hold the elective congress, almost every major party function will be operating online, and the process of adaptation continues,” Zille said in the statement.

In a letter sent to public representatives, Ntuli implores members to object to the virtual congress saying that it would not be practical and would leave the door open for the outcomes of that congress to be challenged.

“The federal congress is the highest level at which the will of the party’s duly elected members is expressed — as stated in our constitution. To this end, the federal congress is the highest decision-making body in the party and its members should all be included to deliberate on crucial matters.

“These include constitutional amendments, policy proposals, motions and recommendations. It is obstructive and implausible to facilitate rigorous debate and discussion with over 2,000 delegates and party members online. This makes it impossible for congress to express any mandate and have integrity,” Ntuli writes.

“Many rural communities will struggle with internet connectivity, causing many delegates to be left out of the process. Even in some urban settings, connectivity remains a challenge. The party will simply be unable to guarantee the full connectivity of all participants throughout the congress.”

The KwaZulu-Natal MPL said that there can be no guarantee that the congress would be free and fair.

“The security of the voting process and full participation at congress is fundamental to its integrity and legitimacy. There is no guarantee that the approved delegates will be the ones who will be voting or participating in a virtual congress. Nobody can guarantee that a delegate cannot give his or her access codes or log in passwords to someone else to vote or partake on his or her behalf, especially when intimidation and an environment of fear are prevalent in our party.

“This is according to testimony from our own members in the review report. There is no guarantee that every delegate's vote will be secret. This will compromise a free and fair election, especially noting the review report which indicates the party operates in an environment of fear.”

The party’s federal council will meet in July, when the decision will be put forward for ratification.

Steenhuisen told the Sunday Times last week that it would require two thirds of the meeting to reject the virtual congress, should that happen it will be back to the drawing board for the party which has been in disarray since it lost around 400,000 voters in the May 8 polls last year.

Ntuli’s campaign spokesperson, Samkelo Mgobozi, confirmed the letter saying that Ntuli did write to the party about her concerns “with the proposal of a virtual congress as proposed by the party’s federal executive”.

“I will, however, not go into the substantive matter contained in the letter as that is for July’s federal council to consider. Ms Ntuli does not want to pre-empt the work of council which is scheduled to consider this very matter,” said Mgobozi.

Steenhuisen’s campaign manager, Dean McPherson, had recently told the Sunday Times that they were in favour of the virtual congress given the upcoming local government elections next year.

“Our view would be that it is important to go to local government elections with a leadership that has the mandate of the party to lead us to that election. I also think that it would be unprecedented for the party or any political party to go into a major election without a mandate from the party to do so and also I think that the voters would take issue with us not having an elected leadership.

“I think lastly, any coalition agreements that are going to have to be negotiated, need to be done by a mandated leadership to do so. We believe it is an untenable situation to go into an election without leadership having a mandate to do so,” McPherson said.

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