Home PodcastJulie Alli There is need for MPs to be unshackled from parties, say activists

There is need for MPs to be unshackled from parties, say activists

by Zahid Jadwat

Civil society groups and opposition political parties say there is need for MPs to be unshackled from their parties if genuine electoral reform is to be realised. They believe parliamentarians should be accountable to their constituents before their parties.


Speaking in an interview on Salaamedia, Zaakirah Vadi, campaign manager at Defend Our Democracy explained accountability to the public was scarce. She highlighted the Electoral Amendment Bill, which was supported by the majority of MPs but has been criticised by civil society, as an example of the issue of MPs being primarily accountable to their parties.


“As it stands, parliamentarians are beholden to their political parties so once they vote on something they go back to their political party and they report. There’s very little coming back to communities even at constituency offices and saying this is why we voted in a particular way,” she said.


Meanwhile, IOL quoted leader of Build One South Africa Mmusi Maimane as saying, “Citizens literally have no power over Parliament in essence because it is immaterial what citizens can raise if the party disagrees or whatever and then the matter stops.”


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Tow the party line

Vadi emphasised that there is need for MPs to be unshackled from their parties for genuine ereform to take effect, saying they were ought to serve constituents first. She said they were currently “beholden” to their parties.


However, Vadi stated there was a need for political parties as they had an important role to play. She said there was a concurrent need for representatives that could be reached by voters.


“You do need parties, but at the same time you should be able to have a representative in Parliament that resonates with you, that you voted for from within your constituency or your ward, and you must be able to phone that parliamentarian up and say, ‘this issue has come up before, why did you vote on it this way [and] you need to answer to us’,” she said.


Vadi proposed an alternative by which there could be more accountability to the public. In this way, representatives would be subject to a review every two-and-a-half years with the possibility of calling a by-election in the instance of poor performance.


Vadi said: “I think this is the basis for electoral reform – being able to hold someone accountable.”


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Electoral Amendment Bill

On Thursday (October 20), MPs voted by 232 votes to 98 to pass the Electoral Amendment Bill that will allow individuals to stand for elected office as independent candidates. Critics argued this was a missed opportunity for thorough reform to ensure political accountability.


The bill was supported by the ANC, EFF, PAC and NFP. It was opposed by the likes of the DA, UDM, ATM and GOOD Party.


“From what we understand of this Bill,” said Vadi, “is that it’s fundamentally flawed. It allows for independent candidates to stand at a national and provincial level of government, but it does so on an unfair basis.”


Those opposed to the Bill stated it was unfair that independent candidates were required to garner at least 8,000 signatures and identity numbers of their supporters to qualify to stand for election, whereas political parties needed just 1 000. The Bill will now be sent to the National of Provinces (NCOP) for further consideration.

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