Postpone South African local govt elections to Feb 2022: Independent inquiry

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Johannesburg, Jul 20 (PTI) An independent inquiry initiated by South Africa's election management body on Tuesday recommended postponement of local government elections by four months to February 2022, arguing that the polls scheduled for October will not be free and fair under Covid-19 conditions.

The inquiry, led by former Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, found that the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions would not allow fair public campaigning by parties and would also restrict the ability of citizens to cast their votes.

More than 4,000 submissions were made to the inquiry -- initiated by the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) of South Africa -- both for and against holding the ballot in October 27, as was announced earlier by the government in terms of the Constitutional requirement of the elections to be held within 90 days of the current five-year term ending.

“Having considered all the submissions of stakeholders, applicable law, research on electoral practices during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the related science, we conclude that it is not reasonably possible or likely that the local government elections scheduled for the month of October 2021 will be held in a free and fair manner,' Moseneke said.

He said the inquiry has reached its conclusion by considering scientific data from most of the country’s leading virologists and researchers, all of whom have concurred on deferment of the elections.

“All experts expressed themselves on the risks associated with elections... Large gatherings are super spreader events. This cannot be emphasised enough... many lives are likely to be lost unless we reach a certain level of community immunity. The nearest point of safety will be February 2022, when there is likely to be a high level of community immunity,' Moseneke said.

The former chief justice noted that if the elections were to proceed as scheduled, most of the acts required to be performed in accordance with the draft timetable will not be reasonably possible, starting with the face-to-face registration of voters, the provisional and final certification of the voters' roll, and the finalisation of the nomination processes for registered parties and independent candidates.

“This is so because the subsisting lockdown restrictions will stand in the way of parties and independent candidates of accomplishing acts prescribed by the timetable and electoral laws,” Moseneke said.

The outcome of the inquiry report is not binding on the Commission.

IEC Chairperson Glen Mashinini said the Commission will consult with key stakeholders, including political parties, with a final announcement on the way forward to be made within the next few days. PTI FH SCY SCY

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