MK Party claims results were rigged

ONGAMA MTIMKA | In-depth reflection needed on elections to avoid credibility being questioned

MK Party claims results were rigged to prevent its outright win

Social media posts by certain political parties, and the use of purported ‘video evidence’ have contributed to shaping perceptions about electoral integrity, says the writer.
Social media posts by certain political parties, and the use of purported ‘video evidence’ have contributed to shaping perceptions about electoral integrity, says the writer.
Image: Motshwari Mofokeng

Umkhonto weSizwe Party leader Jacob Zuma is probably contemplating what his next move is going to be now that the Constitutional Court has refused to interdict the first sitting of parliament today [Friday].

His party had tried to interdict the sitting based on its allegations that the elections were rigged to prevent it from achieving a landslide victory in the polls, among other things.

Despite claims to have evidence of fraud purportedly during the capturing of election results, the party failed to lodge a complaint at the Electoral Court within the required three days from the date of the declaration of results.

In almost two weeks since results were declared, it had still not undertaken any action to have its allegations tested before a competent authority.

The ongoing social media posts by supporters, the attempted interdict and the threat to boycott the first sitting of parliament, despite failing to follow proper legal channels, have all raised doubts among legal and political analysts about the true intentions of Zuma and his MKP with their barrage of attacks.

Zuma has come to personify the fight against the acceptance of the results. He is joined by a few independent candidates and parties that failed to gain traction at the polls.

Therefore, the credibility of the 2024 elections will go down as the most hotly contested in the democratic period thus far.

The behaviour by some of the political actors and their social media influencers as well as their supporters more generally certainly accounts for much of that contestation.

Their posts on social media, the interviews they have done and shared, and the use of purported “video evidence” have contributed to shaping perceptions about electoral integrity.

This is an invitation to those studying elections, political institutions and the role of the media and political communication in the digital age to up their ante.

I am glad to have preempted this in the workshops I facilitated for election observers linked to the missions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC countries.

The sessions I facilitated included risk management logs for election observers. I adopted systems theory and critical realism approaches to factors influencing electoral credibility to show the complexity of the issues.

The factors include “objective reality”, constructed reality, the behaviour of the electoral management body and the nature of vested interests in the conduct of elections.

The approach makes a distinction between events that take place and the interpretations or meanings that are ascribed to those events. For instance, events, be they mishaps or the ordinary standard practices, happen and then discussions or debates ensure about why the events happened or in fact what the events are or mean.

Therein lies the crux of the matter. Despite warnings from critical realists about the multi-layered nature of reality and how descriptions of reality are separate from the reality itself, people have tended elevated their interpretations of their descriptions of what happened to a higher status than the reality itself.

For example, among the many videos shared by supporters of the MKP is a video of what appears to be IEC staff loading ballot boxes in a truck. Another one shows people loading ballot boxes on a shopping cart.

No context is given about who the people in the videos are, where the ballot boxes are from, or whether they had been counted and captured already. Yet, the videos have been trending on social media and are readily presented as evidence to any who are simply “doubting Thomases” as it seems.   

The reality in both instances is that there were people who loaded ballot boxes into a truck or those in a cart. All else is either deliberately manufactured reality and disinformation or sheer ignorance.

This is not to suggest that the IEC is a perfect institution that should not be criticised. Things do go wrong as reflected in the commission’s own reporting and comments from observer reports and from citizens directly.

However, the conduct of the IEC throughout the period has not demonstrated an institutional bias towards certain parties, never mind engineering the outcome to favour some and disadvantage others.

Throughout the period, the IEC has demonstrated confidence and resilience.

If it is any consolation to the IEC, independent research by the Human Sciences Research Council showed that voters gave a big vote of confidence to the IEC once more, despite complaints about the longer queues this year.

Furthermore, some of the political parties played a great role in protecting the election process. The EFF were the first to accept the outcome despite some reservations about the accuracy of results in a few isolated places. Following immediately in their footsteps was the ANC confirming its acceptance of results as the will of the people of SA.

The concerns in this article show a need for more in-depth reflections on conducting elections in a tough environment in which there are many factors influencing perceptions about the credibility. We dare not fail.

  • Dr Mtimka is a lecturer and political analyst at the Nelson Mandela University and the executive chair of the SA Political Risk Institute. He writes in his personal capacity.

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