Court Rejects Bid to Postpone South Africa’s Municipal Elections

South Africa’s Johannesburg-based Constitutional Court has dismissed an application by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to postpone municipal elections due on October 27, according to court documents.

“The commission’s application is dismissed and the election must take place between Oct. 27 and Nov. 1”, the court ruled on Friday. The government had initially announced that the elections would be held on Oct. 27, pending the outcome of the court case.

Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, South Africa’s constitution requires that the election be held within five years and 90 days after the last local government elections, which were held in August 2016. According to a panel headed by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, the poll would not be free and fair if it were held by the deadline because of the Coronavirus pandemic and the IEC accepted his recommendation that it be delayed.

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The Constitutional Court judgement is a blow to the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which supported a postponement and has struggled to register thousands of councillors expected to contest the municipal elections.

In 2016, the ANC suffered a troubling set of results in local elections, losing cities like Johannesburg to opposition parties for the first time since it won the 1994 elections in South Africa’s first democratic vote.

This time the polls will test support for the ANC following the COVID-19 pandemic and South Africa’s worst civil unrest in years in July, triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma after he failed to appear before an anti-corruption inquiry.

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ANC spokesman Pule Mabe said the party welcomes the judgement and would study it properly before commenting further.

The IEC in a statement said it would meet over the weekend to chart a way forward and would make an announcement about the electoral programme on Monday.

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