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The municipal elections scheduled for October should be postponed because they would not be viable under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on gatherings, a two-month investigation has found.

The Moseneke inquiry, commissioned by the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) in May, has recommended that the elections should be postponed to February 2022 when the health risks associated with Covid-19 would have in all likelihood subsided due to widespread vaccinations.

Should the IEC implement the non-binding Moseneke report it would have to seek the approval from a court of “competent jurisdiction” to defer the elections to a period no later than the end of February next year, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke said on Tuesday.

IEC chair Glen Mashinini said the electoral body was still studying the report, after which it would make a determination on the way forward.

The recommendations of the Moseneke report are not binding on the IEC. The report, however, does throw a spanner in the works of the electoral body’s plans to conduct the elections within the constitutionally required 90-day period after the five-year expiry of a municipal council. 

In June, the IEC launched the polls saying that it was at an advanced stage of preparation for the elections and the voter registration weekend, which was scheduled for July 17 and 18. The registration weekend was, however, indefinitely postponed due to the restrictions on political gatherings under level 4 lockdown regulations.

Moseneke said under the current restrictions during a third wave of the pandemic, political parties and independent candidates will not be able to freely participate in the local government elections and voters will not be able to exercise their rights that are essential to the free and fair running of elections.

Though it is critical that municipal councils are regularly elected in line with the constitution, the conducting  of elections should not occur in the face of the threat to life, the inquiry found. The postponement of the elections, which would “reset” the country’s ailing municipalities, should not be longer than necessary, Moseneke said.

The inquiry has received numerous submissions from various stakeholders, including the IEC, the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 for the department of health, independent medical experts, electoral monitoring bodies, civil society and political parties, who all had divergent views on the matter.

The ANC and DA have previously voiced their support for the municipal polls to go ahead while smaller opposition parties such as the EFF, UDM and the IFP have raised concerns about the viability of the elections considering the limited ability to freely campaign amid the Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings.

Submissions from medical experts to the commission warned against holding elections while there remained the possibility of the spread of the coronavirus and the possible emergence of new variants. The peak of the third wave of infections driven by the deadly Delta variant is likely to subside during September and October according to submissions by medical experts to the inquiry. 

Former head of the ministerial advisory committee, Prof Salim Abdool Karim, told the inquiry that conducting the elections under the current conditions would cause a rise in infections. Should elections be held, then they should be conducted outdoors where there is ventilation.

“The real difference will be made by community immunity through vaccination,” Moseneke said.

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