Political parties to promote tolerance ahead of poll

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Johannesburg - Leaders of different political parties who will be contesting this year's Local Government Elections have pledged to ensure a political environment free of violence and intimidation ahead of the 18 May election. 

The 28 leaders, chosen from the 121 political parties taking part in the election, on Wednesday gathered at Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg to sign a pledge committing themselves to a peaceful campaigning in the period leading to the election. 

They also pledged to refrain from war talk and acts, such as defacing or removing opponents' election posters and other party material. 

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had chosen only those parties that will be contesting the election in two or more provinces for the symbolic signing ceremony, which was broadcast live on SABC TV.

The IEC said the pledge was not only a moral obligation on the part of politicians but was legally binding. Offences range from intimidation, offensive language and destruction of opponent's election material, with fines ranging from R200 000 or 10 years imprisonment. 

Earlier, a draw was also conducted to determine which party will occupy the first spot on the ballot and the day belonged to the African Independent Congress, a little known party contesting elections in a few provinces. The parties will then be listed in their alphabetical order. 

At the signing ceremony, IEC chairperson Dr Brigalia Bam reminded the political parties that the country's expectations were high, adding that any unruly conduct will not be tolerated. They should all work towards tolerance of each other as this was important for the "favourable" environment in which free and fair election was possible. 

"We are confident that these elections will bring peace and ensure stability in our country and we are urging all you to remember that as much as the election date is important so does the period leading to the election because it determines whether people will be free to exercise their right to vote."

The ruling ANC, the opposition Democratic Alliance and COPE committed to ensure that their supporters were educated about the importance of tolerance, dignified campaigning and respect for the law. 

As the leader of the ANC, President Jacob Zuma, who is currently in China, was not present at the ceremony and was represented party national chairperson Baleka Mbethe.

"We, as the ANC, state it here that we will do all we can to protect the legitimacy of the election as we did it before ... the ANC fought for this democracy and we commit to protect it," declared Mbete.

"There should be no doubt from anyone in the world that our governments are chosen by the will of the people, there shouldn't be any doubt," she said. The ANC would not tolerate any unruliness from its members and those found guilty of violating the conduct would be dealt with. 

DA leader Helen Zille said her party took the code very seriously. "The DA, as it has done before, calls on all political parties to respect one another ... in the five weeks remaining before the election, let's all live the spirit of tolerance, let every citizen and political party emerge from this election knowing that they have played a part on deepening democracy," said Zille. 

COPE president Mosiuoa Lekota said the code of conduct was "an added step" in South Africa's efforts to deepen democracy. "Beyond just signing, we must ensure that the promises of democracy are indeed delivered to our people - it should not just end here," he said. 

Both the Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo) and African People's Convention (APC) also pledged to live by the rules of the code. 

APC president Themba Godi said: "Violence and intimidation have lost their currency. We believe politics is about the battle of ideas so let ideas battle and we are all challenged to ensure the commitments we make today are backed by words." - BuaNews