Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Great news -- I think. South African nationals overseas will, apparently, be allowed to vote in next year's general election. According to the M&G, Mbeki is of the view that the concerns of opposition parties are 'reasonable', and the Electoral Act will accordingly be amended.

We have, of course, yet to see what this means. A narrow exception could be made, allowing people who've already registered within South Africa to vote if they happen to be outside the country on election day. But if a broader approach is followed -- if people such as myself are allowed to register and vote in the UK -- the question that this raises is what has prompted this change of heart, especially given that allowing expats to vote is so clearly against the political interests of the ANC. (For the benefit of non-South African readers, most South African expats are white, and most -- although not all -- are likely to vote for opposition parties.)

It could be that the ANC fears embarrassment in the Constitutional Court. After all, the DA and FF have threatened legal action. But this is unlikely. In the cases heard before the previous election, concerning possession of bar-coded ID documents, the Court adopted a deferential approach to the right to vote and applied 'low intensity' rational connection review. If the matter were taken to court, the government would, I think, fancy its chances. Furthermore, the government has been quite prepared to embarrass itself in the courts in the past (in the Treatment Action Campaign case for example).

So possibly, just possibly, this is a gesture of genuine good will. I really hope that it is, but my experience of political organisations -- all such organisations, not just the ANC -- leads me to suspect that there is more to this than meets the eye. Let's wait and see what the amended law looks like.

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