Political parties are essential parts of any democratic political system. They are the vehicles through which citizens are able to compete together for power; they make a political system legitimate; they allow citizens to be represented in the state; they facilitate a degree of responsiveness and accountability; they are instruments for the recruitment of political leaders; and they act as mechanisms of political communication and education. By creating coalitions within a society, they also promote social cohesion.
The benign potential of political parties is rarely fully realized, however. Parties are often involved in political intimidation, corruption, the politicization of state institutions, the manipulation of racial and ethnic antagonisms, and the pursuit of short-term partisan advantage at the expense of the longer term interests of citizens, future generations, and the environment.
South African activists have mostly maintained the position that parties should be open, transparent and accountable. In particular, information about how parties are financed is necessary if citizens are to make informed decisions about the political parties they choose to support. Constitutional lawyers too, are quick to point to the principles that have been advanced by the Constitutional Court in defending the kind of society imagined by the Constitution. However, political scientists have frequently warned of the dangers posed by the unintended consequences of political party regulation, often sought by those who intend to protect the Constitution.
The potentially benign and malign potentials of political parties and party systems have legal, political and sociological dimensions. These can only be understood by means of interdisciplinary study and deliberation, involving dialogue between specialists in the organisational and political aspects of democratic systems, scholars of the legal and constitutional factors that shape political party operations, party political strategists, and social justice activists.
The Department of Political Studies at the University of Cape Town and the UCT School of Law, in collaboration with civil society group, My Vote Counts, would like to stimulate such a dialogue. They therefore intend to hold a conference in Cape Town on the theme “Political parties in South Africa: Legal and political considerations” on August 27 and 28 2015.
Suggestions for papers and panel themes are welcomed. These will include but not be limited to the following issues and questions:
The organisers invite those interested in presenting a paper at this noteworthy conference to submit abstracts to Prof. Anthony Butler firstname.lastname@example.org or Prof. Pierre De Vos email@example.com. Abstracts should be no longer than 500 words in length and must be submitted by 22 March 2015. We plan to seek publication of these papers in a book or special journal edition.
Yesterday, My Vote Counts went to the Constitutional Court to defend the Constitution and hold political parties to account. We asked the Constitutional Court to declare that Parliament has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to enact financial disclosure legislation to regulate private donations to political parties. This financial information is crucial for an informed right to vote, we argued, and necessary to protect the political rights from all forms of corruption. Counsel for Parliament conceded this, and agreed that citizens need access to such information in order exercise meaningful political rights. This was a huge concession, which vindicates the entire substance of our application.
However, Parliament argued that this necessary information can be garnered through an existing piece of legislation, the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA); the very piece of legislation that was held in the IDASA litigation to be inappropriate for accessing private party funding records. Thus, one of the key issues that emerged was the relevance of PAIA, and whether it is an adequate legislative tool under section 32 of the Constitution for the purposes of gaining access to secret party funding. If it is the case, as Parliament argued, then the principle of subsidiarity applies, which means that MVC should have attacked PAIA for being unconstitutional rather than bringing it directly to the Court under section 32 of the Constitution. On this score, Parliament’s Counsel presented a contradictory and unconvincing argument to the Court, which was not supported by Parliament’s conduct since the inception of democracy. MVC’s Counsel maintained the position that PAIA clearly does not purport to “cover the field” of access to information, and that citizens cannot use PAIA to gain access to the type of information they require from political parties to fully exercise their right to an informed vote. The obligation imposed by section 32 when read with section 19 obliges, therefore, that Parliament replace a system of unregulated secrecy with regulated transparency, which Parliament has failed to do.
Debating this issue of subsidiarity, as it relates to PAIA, constituted the majority of the day’s proceedings. After hearing from counsel for both MVC and the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Court adjourned and judgment was reserved.
We expect judgment within the next four to six months. On balance, MVC remains hopeful that it has been successful in making the merits of its case clear. We are thankful for the excellent work of our lawyers and counsel, and for the support shown by partner organisations, such as the Right2Know Campaign and Corruption Watch, as well as support shown on news and social media.
Updates will be posted on our website, Facebook account and Twitter account (@MVC_SA). Further film-screenings and workshops to raise public awareness around this issue will also follow soon. For more information on the case, or how to get involved with MVC, contact:
Greg Solik (Managing Director) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Winks (WebberWentzel Attorneys) – email@example.com
My Vote Counts v The Speaker of Parliament & Others will be heard at the Constitutional Court, Johannesburg, on 10 February 2015.
The right to vote envisaged in the Constitution is the right to cast an informed vote. The right to make political choices is the right to make informed political choices.
MVC has asked the Constitutional Court to declare that Parliament has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to enact financial disclosure legislation to give effect to the right of access to information. This is based on the belief that information about the private funding of political parties is reasonably required for the effective exercise of the right to vote in elections. We have asked the Court to direct Parliament to fulfill this constitutional obligation by passing disclosure legislation, which Parliament must do within 18 months.
We refuse to be blind mice. We choose to be informed citizens. We say no to secrecy. Those that exercise public power must and will be held accountable. We demand protection from the state from all forms of corruption.
Our founding affidavit is available here, while our heads of argument are available here. The Speaker of Parliament’s answering affidavit is available here. Other materials which may be of interest are available on our website www.myvotecounts.org.za.
My Vote Counts 2015
Powered by WordPress & Atahualpa