Spread the word: South Africans abroad can vote overseas

by oneafrikan on March 12, 2009

Just in case you didn’t know:
The Constitutional Court ruled this morning that expatriate South Africans have the right to vote!

Only those already registered will be eligible to vote, and must notify the chief electoral officer of their intention to vote by March 27. The London Voting Station will be South Africa House/ SA High Commission.

To check if you are eligible to vote, visit:
https://www.elections.org.za/AmRegister/amregister.aspx.

Hat tip: SA Business Club newsletter

* Update – from the SA LegalBrief Today newsletter *

Constitutional: Registered expats cleared to vote
The Constitutional Court yesterday ruled unanimously that South Africans living abroad had the right to vote if they were registered. The court ruled that section 33 of the 1998 Electoral Act unfairly restricted the right to cast special votes while abroad to a very narrow class of citizens. It declared this section to be unconstitutional. As a result, all citizens who are registered voters, and who will be out of the country on 22 April, will be allowed to vote in the national (not provincial) elections ‘provided they give notice of their intention to do so, in terms of the Election Regulations, on or before 27 March to the Chief Electoral Officer and identify the embassy, high commission or consulate where they intend to apply for the special vote’. Handing down the first of two separate judgments, Justice Kate O’Regan said the right to vote had a symbolic and democratic value and those who were registered should not be limited by unconstitutional and invalid limitations in the Electoral Act. However, notes a report in The Times, a second judgment by Justice Sandile Ngcobo found that unregistered voters overseas could not vote. The limitations had been in effect since 2003 and the applicants had not explained why they had left the challenge so late. This follows an application by the Freedom Front Plus on behalf of a Pretoria school teacher working in the UK, as well as representation by the IFP, the DA, the A-Party, a lobby group, and an independent group of South Africans living overseas.

Political parties across the board have welcomed the ruling, according to an SABC News report. The Freedom Front Plus says it is a victory for democracy. Party leader Pieter Mulder said it was difficult to say whether the ruling would have an impact on the outcome of the elections, but that was not the point. DA chairperson James Selfe predicted that the ruling would improve the party’s performance in the elections: ‘We will benefit differentially from this decision,’ he said. The DA would in coming days decide whether to launch a separate legal bid to secure voters abroad the right to cast ballots for provincial governments as well. ‘It is a matter that we need to think through thoroughly.’ Figures had shown that most registered voters lived in the UK and the DA might extend its campaign to reach the large expatriate community there. According to a Mail & Guardian Online report, Selfe also said the DA was planning to bring forward new legislative proposals to clean up the whole business of the rights of South Africans abroad to vote. ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte is quoted as saying the ruling was in line with the ANC’s view that every effort should be made to ensure all South Africans, including those temporarily living abroad, be given an opportunity to cast their votes in elections.

The Independent Electoral Commission has no idea how many expatriates might vote, says a report in The Times. It notes more than 5 000 South Africans living abroad have already applied for a special vote, but the final number is anyone’s guess, the IEC’s chief electoral officer, Pansy Tlakula, has conceded.

Although the decision will not have a major impact on the elections, it is significant – both for the message it conveys to South Africans living abroad, and for what it says about the current state of our country today, writes political commentator James Myburgh on the Politicsweb site. He says the decision to disenfranchise overseas South Africans was a thoroughly mean-spirited one. The old ruling clique of the ANC clearly felt their departure to be some kind of rebuke – and so sought to punish them. In his affidavit to the Constitutional Court, IFP leader and former Minister of Home Affairs, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, wrote that a senior official had explained the ANC’s rationale as follows: ‘They left us in the lurch and do not deserve to vote.’ This petty and vindictive attitude was carried over until recently. By contrast, writes Myburgh, Judge Kate O’Regan’s reasoning in the judgment is broadminded and generous. She noted that SA is now part of a global economy which allows citizens of this country to study and work abroad: ‘The experience that they gain will enrich our society when they return…. The evidence before us, too, shows that many South African citizens abroad make remittances to family members in SA while they are abroad, or save money to buy a house. To the extent that citizens engaged in such pursuits want to take the trouble to participate in elections while abroad, it is an expression both of their continued commitment to our country and their civic-mindedness from which our democracy will benefit.’ Hopefully, writes Myburgh, extending the right to vote to citizens abroad will foster a continued sense of belonging, and help keep alive the desire to return.

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