South Africa: Political party registration
Reviewed April 2019
The right of South Africans to form political parties is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution (1996, Article 19.1.), which provides that, "Every citizen is free to make political choices", which includes the rights to create political parties, to take part in party activities and recruit members and to campaign for a political party or cause. Consequently, political party formation is rather free and uncircumscribed (Lodge & Scheideggar 2005, 7). Parties are, however, required to register with the Independent Electoral Commission in order to participate in public elections (Electoral Act 1998, 26), and some constraints (noted below) have been placed on registration.
In terms of the Electoral Commission Act of 1996, Section 1, a party is defined as "any registered party, and includes any organisation or movement of a political nature which publicly supports or opposes the policy, candidates or cause of any registered party, or which propagates non-participation in any election". One of the functions of the Electoral Commission is to "compile and maintain a register of parties" (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 5(f)). The Electoral Commission is empowered to make regulations regarding the registration of parties in terms of the Act (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 23(c)). The Act lays out the registration process in broad parameters only, so, in terms of this provision of the Act, the Electoral Commission has issued regulations to flesh out the details of the registration process, the Regulations for the Registration of Political Parties 2004 ("Regulations 2004").
Responsibility for the administration of the registration process is vested with the chief electoral officer (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 15(1)), to whom applications for registration are made. On the prescribed form a party wishing to apply for registration must submit its name, abbreviation, a distinguishing emblem in colour and its constitution (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 15(2)). In terms of the Regulations (2004, Annexure 1) the name may not be more than 60 letters long and the abbreviation may not have more than eight letters. A party that is not already represented at some elective level of government (national, provincial or local) is required to furnish the party's deed of foundation, a registration fee of R500 (or R200 for parties contesting only municipal elections) and proof of publication in the Gazette of a notice of application (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 15(3); Regulations 2004, 3, 4).
Once a party has been registered, a certificate of registration is issued by the chief electoral officer and the registration is published in the Gazette (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 15(5)). Parties that are not represented in a legislative body must renew their registration before 31 December every year (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 15(6); Regulations 2004, 10). The chief electoral officer must be notified of any changes to the registration details of a party within 30 days of the change (Regulations 2004, 9).
Refusal of registration, appeals and deregistration
The chief electoral officer may not register a party if its name, abbreviation or emblem resembles that of another party sufficiently to deceive or confuse voters, or incites violence or hatred, or causes offence on the grounds of race, gender, sex, ethnicity, colour, sexual orientation, age disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture or language (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 16(1)). There are no prescriptions prohibiting the formation of political parties based on ethnicity, religion, regionalism, tribalism or advocacy of succession from the republic, probably because such prohibitions would violate the freedom to form political parties established by the Bill of Rights (Constitution 1996, Article 19.1.).
Appeals against decisions by the chief electoral officer to register or not register a party may be made to the IEC within 30 days of notification of the decision (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 16(2)).
The registration of a party may be cancelled if the IEC, after notification of the party and an inquiry, has determined that the party concerned no longer functions or does not intend to participate in an election or if the party notifies the IEC that it has dissolved or will dissolve on a particular date (Electoral Commission Act 1996, 17).
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