Election Report: 2009 National and Provincial Elections


Since 1994, when South Africa’s first democratic elections were held, our democracy has matured at a remarkable rate. Each set of elections brings its own challenges. Fortunately, we can apply the lessons learnt in previous elections. In the process, we develop new, and enhance existing, systems to make the management of elections more efficient and transparent.

Elections are very significant events, which rank among the most complex logistical exercises conducted in the life of any nation. This report shares some of the legal, administrative and logistical processes that went into delivering the 2009 national and provincial elections.

Preparations for elections start with a thorough review of the last elections and include an evaluation of the lessons that were learnt.

The Electoral Commission moves from the premise that the voter is central to all its activities. The right to vote is one of the most important rights in the Bill of Rights of South Africa and every effort is therefore made to ensure that every eligible South African can cast her or his vote with dignity and with as much ease as possible. For this reason, regular delimitation projects are conducted to identify voting districts and to conveniently locate voting stations in each voting district. This enables the Commission to reduce the number of voters per voting station and to cut down on travelling time to voting stations.

The 2009 national and provincial elections saw an increase in the number of voting stations from 14 650 in 1999 to 19 726.

Creation of new voting districts and changes to the boundaries of existing voting districts result in the need for targeted registration campaigns. Through such campaigns, efforts are made to reach out to affected voters to ensure that they are registered in the correct voting districts.

Of the 156 registered political parties, 40 contested the elections at one or more levels. Twenty-six contested the elections for the National Assembly. For a party to contest an election, it had to be a registered party, submit a list of candidates and pay an election deposit of R180 000 for elections for the National Assembly and R40 000 for elections for each provincial legislature. All these requirements had to be fulfilled by the date and time stipulated in the Election Timetable.

Parties who wished to contest the elections had to submit lists of candidates. Legislation requires the Commission to publish those lists widely in order to allow opportunities for anyone to object to any candidate on a list. For the first time, the Commission decided to publish the lists of candidates in daily newspapers, in addition to publishing them at all the Commission offices.

Anyone could object against any candidate to the Commission. After objections had been dealt with, 9 130 candidates remained on the various lists of political parties.

The Commission employs about 800 full-time employees at national, provincial and municipal levels. As preparations for the elections intensified, however, several more officials were brought on board as expansion staff, registration officials, fieldworkers, presiding officers and other election officials.

The Commission must fulfil its mandate with impartiality. It is therefore important that all individuals responsible for the management of elections are independent, impartial, transparent and accountable in their functioning.

In terms of the Electoral Act, a person may not be appointed as an election official if that person is a candidate, a party agent or holds political office in a registered party. All officers must be impartial and exercise their powers and perform their duties independently and without fear, favour or prejudice. An official may not give support to or oppose any registered party or candidate contesting an election. Furthermore, an election official may not place in jeopardy that official’s perceived independence, or harm the credibility, impartiality, independence or integrity of the Commission, by membership, association, statement or conduct.

In the process of recruiting and training more than 200 000 electoral officials, we developed a set of criteria for the appointment of electoral staff, and presiding and deputy presiding officers in particular. These criteria stipulated, among other things, that presiding and deputy presiding officers should not in the last five years have held political office or been candidates in an election or have been politically active in a political party. In addition, they should not in the last five years have held office in an organisation with party political affiliations or aims.

To ensure transparency, the names of presiding and deputy presiding officers were submitted to local party liaison committees (PLCs). Local PLCs were given time to object in writing to any of the proposed officials.

A number of court cases preceded the 2009 elections. In this respect, one of the biggest challenges was the matter of the right to vote by South African citizens abroad. The Electoral Act was very specific on the categories of people who were allowed to vote abroad. The Commission decided that it would apply the provisions of the law strictly. In the end, a number of parties took the matter up in a few separate court cases. The Constitutional Court heard all these matters and passed judgement on 12 March 2009. The judgement required the Commission to make provision for all registered voters abroad to vote at South African missions provided that they gave notice to the Chief Electoral Officer by the prescribed date.

This challenge was surmounted and on 15 April 2009, votes were cast at South African missions abroad.

The Electoral Code of Conduct is intended to promote conditions conducive to free and fair elections. At national level, a total of 15 complaints were received by parties alleging infringements of the Code. This does not include complaints that were received and resolved at local or provincial levels.

Infringements of the Code can be dealt with through the institution of criminal proceedings. Many members of the public and even political parties are under the incorrect impression that infringements of the Code can be dealt with by the Electoral Commission. Where appropriate, parties were advised to lay criminal charges with the police. Other complaints were resolved either directly by the parties involved or through mediation by panellists of the Commission’s Conflict Management Programme.

By the time that voting day arrived in South Africa, political parties had criss-crossed the length and breadth of the country on their campaigning trails. Despite the heightened political temperatures, voting proceeded peacefully on 22 April 2009 and on the preceding two days set aside for special voting. South Africa had a 77.3% voter turnout for these elections and only 1.34% of ballots were spoilt. South African voters again demonstrated their commitment to keep democracy working in our country.

For the 2009 national and provincial elections, the Commission introduced a few innovations. One of these was the scanning of results slips. This meant that, in addition to the posting of the results slips at the voting station and the capturing of the audited results on the results system, a physical image of each result slip was scanned and recorded. This scanned image was made available and allowed comparison between the results that were captured on the system with the results captured on the results slips. This allowed greater transparency and is but one of the ways in which the Commission aimed to ensure credible, free and fair elections.

The results of the 2009 national and provincial elections were announced on 25 April 2009, well within the prescribed period of seven days stipulated by legislation.

Advocate Pansy Tlakula
Chief Electoral Officer