Registered SA citizens abroad to vote in April 22 elections

Thursday, March 12, 2009
By: 
Bathandwa Mbola

Johannesburg -The Constitutional Court has ruled that South African citizens abroad who are registered to vote will be allowed to vote in the 22 April general elections.

"We have ruled that South Africans citizens who are living abroad will be allowed vote. However, those who are not registered to vote will not be allowed to vote," said Constitutional Court Justice Sandile Ngcobo.

The court also said those South Africans who are registered and who are interested in voting would be required to inform the electoral office within 15 days.

The ruling comes after the Freedom Front Plus, on behalf of a Pretoria teacher working overseas, made an application to the Pretoria High Court to allow South Africans abroad to be able to make their mark.

The Pretoria High Court found certain provisions of the Electoral Act unconstitutional and therefore invalid. The judgement was then sent to the Constitutional Court for confirmation or otherwise.

However, Chief Electoral Officer Pansy Tlakula has assured South Africans that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) would be able implement the court ruling.

Speaking in an interview with eNews Channel, Ms Tlakula said: "I can assure South Africans we can pull that off. As the IEC we always anticipate the outcome [of such court cases] and plan for the worst, we have made contingency plans."

Ms Tlakula said that they would now look at the number of people who are interested in voting.

According to today's ruling, registered South Africans abroad interested in voting will have to inform the IEC within 15 days.

She said that so far there were 5000 South Africans abroad who had informed them of their intention to vote overseas. She said this number would probably double.

Ms Tlakula said that it would have been more complicated if they had to register new voters and if they had to send provincial ballot papers to the various embassies abroad.

According to the ruling today, voters abroad will only able to cast a national ballot.

The court ordered the Department of Home Affairs and the IEC to extend the right to special votes to all categories of registered voters absent from South Africa.

The IEC was ordered to accordingly amend the election regulations of 2004.

The department had presented arguments in the court in support of the submission that the right to vote of certain South African citizens abroad has not been unjustifiably limited.

The Electoral Act, 73 of 1998 was amended in 2003. Section 33(1)(e) was introduced to allow South African citizens temporarily abroad and therefore unable to vote at a voting station in the voting district in which they are registered, to vote by means of a special vote. It was this provision that the applicants were seeking to declare unconstitutional.

According to the department, the present system provided for a voters roll system that require voters to be registered in the district in which they are to vote.

It argued that the legislative provisions which the applicants seek to have declared unconstitutional formed part of the fundamental pillars of the district-based voters-roll electoral system.