Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Vuma Mashinini. Picture: THE TIMES
Vuma Mashinini. Picture: THE TIMES

Civil society groups are closely watching the process under way to select three new commissioners for the Electoral Commission of SA as the country readies itself for the 2019 general elections.

The hotly contested elections are set to take place a few months after three of the required five commissioners are appointed, raising questions about experience. The 2019 election could see key provinces end up under the control of coalition governments.

The three new commissioners will replace three exiting commissioners. The terms of Terry Tselane and Bongani Finca end in November 2018, while Judge Thami Makhanya’s term expired in April 2018. However, the process to replace them may only wrap up early in 2019, meaning the new commissioners would have only months to prepare for the elections.

Inexperience 

The two remaining commissioners, chairman Vuma Mashinini and Janet Love, have presided over local government elections, but are still to run a national one.

According to a statement from the office of the chief justice, 26 candidates for the three posts have been shortlisted and interviews are set to take place between June 25 and June 29.

My Vote Counts and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), who are collaborating on a campaign around the selection of the commissioners, said they would release a booklet on the 26 candidates next week to create public awareness around the process. This will provide the public with an opportunity to get to know the potential commissioners ahead of the interview process.

The office of the chief justice has welcomed input from the public on the candidates and has called for submissions, which must be made by June 11.

"It is true that elections are run by systems and people with the technical expertise to deliver on a complex project but, at the end of the day, the credibility of the election rests largely on the … integrity of the commissioners, and it is with those people that the public places their trust," said Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo.

My Vote Counts researcher Farai Savanhu said it was a matter of concern that there were three vacancies for commissioners and also that the two remaining commissioners had never run a national election.

"So we are going to have five commissioners running a national election next year that have had no experience doing that. That is a bit of a concern and we want to highlight that to the public," she said. Savanhu said it was critical the public was aware that they can participate in having a say on who the new commissioners would be.

The panel set to conduct the interviews will include Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane as well as the deputy chairwoman of the Commission for Gender Equality, Tamara Mathebula, and Human Rights Commission chairman Bongani Christopher Majola.

marriann@businesslive.co.za