My Vote Counts campaign launched

Fritz Schoon
2009 National Election ballot. Photo licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 from Warrenski.
Fritz Schoon

This past Saturday, 28 July, saw the launch of the ‘My Vote Counts’ campaign. The event took place at the District Six Museum in Cape Town and was attended by more than 40 social activists, all of whom participated in their personal capacities. The occasion was marked by speeches from veteran activist Zackie Achmat, director of Cape Town-based social justice organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi, and well-known cartoonist Jonathan ‘Zapiro’ Shapiro.

My Vote Counts is a public campaign, founded on democratic principles, which aims to increase accountability and transparency within South African politics, particularly in relation to elections, electioneering and campaigning. The campaign has two core objectives. The first is to have the South African electoral system amended to be a mixed system, utilising both proportional representation and constituency based representation. The second is to instigate increased transparency and openness in terms of political party funding and its sources.

Section 19 of the Constitution states that: “Every adult citizen has the right to stand for public office and, if elected, to hold office.” However, the Electoral Act only makes provision for political parties, not individuals, to contest national elections. The Electoral Act, therefore, does not adhere with the Constitution and My Vote Counts seeks to have this state of affairs rectified.

In addition to denying individuals the right to stand for public office, the list variant of proportional representation currently being used in South Africa can be seen to impede the responsiveness and accountability of elected leaders to their communities. For one, local communities do not have a say in who appears on political parties’ lists. Come election time, voters have to vote for a party, thereby endorsing whichever candidates may be on that party’s list. This means that communities potentially stand in line to receive constituency representatives they do not know and who may not be in touch with the needs of the constituencies they are supposed to represent.

Moreover, by enabling parties to determine who appears on their lists and to which constituencies elected candidates are allocated, proportional representation can produce unresponsive leaders who are accountable only to their political parties and not to the communities they are supposed to represent. My Vote Counts considers this to be undesirable and are therefore campaigning to have a greater number of leaders elected in their personal capacities at constituency level.

In 2002 government set up the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission to look into the possibility of amending the South African electoral system. The committee released its report in 2003, but their recommendations have to date not been acted upon. It was suggested in the Van Zyl Slabbert Report that South Africa adopt a mixed electoral system whereby 300 of the 400 national parliamentarians be elected at constituency level, and the remaining 100 be elected by means of proportional representation. My Vote Counts seeks to have these recommendations adhered with.

The second objective of the My Vote Counts campaign is to bring about a significant improvement in the transparency and openness of political party funding. Currently, political party funding and its sources are characterised by a veil of secrecy. My Vote Counts believes that it is not in the interests of democracy or South Africa at large for political parties to be preoccupied with servicing the needs of their financiers rather than the communities they should be uplifting. The public has a right to know how and by whom political parties are being funded. In order to fight corruption and patronage, and to ensure service delivery, particularly in impoverished communities, My Vote Counts seeks to instigate comprehensive reform to party funding to ensure that it is transparent and open.

Members of the public who are interested in the My Vote Counts campaign can contact either Fritz Jooste (fritzjooste [at] gmail.com) or Fritz Schoon (fritzschoon [at] hotmail.com) for further details about the campaign and how to get involved.

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TOPICS:  Government

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