South Africa’s election body seeks to postpone local elections due to pandemic

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South Africa’s Electoral Commission will on Wednesday apply to the Constitutional Court for municipal elections to be postponed from October, after an inquiry recommended a delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commission Chair Glen Mashinini told a news conference that all necessary documents had been prepared for the application, and a new date would be sought to hold the elections before the end of February -- tentatively the last Wednesday of the month.

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The municipal elections will test the electorate’s sentiment following the COVID-19 pandemic and unrest triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma after he failed to appear before an anti-corruption inquiry.

It was not immediately clear what impact a delay would have on the outcome of the elections. The governing African National Congress (ANC) is widely expected to win them though the unrest has highlighted frustration with its achievements.

The government, which is not due to face a parliamentary election until 2024, wants the municipal elections delayed. As a postponement can be sought from a court only if an election date has been finalized, the government said on Tuesday that the municipal elections would be on Oct. 27.

The last municipal elections were held in August 2016 and, according to South Africa’s constitution, voting should be held within 90 days of the expiry of the municipal councils’ five-year mandate.

But an inquiry established by the Electoral Commission concluded last month that it was “not reasonably possible or likely” that the municipal elections would be free and fair if they went ahead during the coronavirus pandemic.

South Africa accounts for over a third of COVID-19 cases and more than 40 percent of deaths from the disease in Africa. It has fully vaccinated 5 percent of its population.

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