Issued by Ezra Mendel and Shaun Kinnes on behalf of the FW de Klerk Foundation, on 29/04/2024


This is the second article in the FW de Klerk Foundation’s Election Series. It will assess what electoral governance is, as well as the various hurdles it encounters globally. The Foundation will also explore solutions to these hurdles which will enhance electoral governance and ensure constitutional integrity.


Electoral Governance – What is it?

Elections in many scenarios are the ultimate test of a democracy. They are multifaceted processes with various implications domestically, as well as globally: 

The 2023/2024 election cycle will see elections held in over 60 countries around the world, representing nearly half of the world’s population. With states such as India (the largest population), the United States of America (the largest economy) and South Africa (an African regional power) going to the polls in 2024, election outcomes in these countries will have ramifications for both internal, as well as external political dynamics. 

The Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to free, fair and regular elections (section 19(2)). Electoral governance ensures fair elections, fostering democracy and stability through citizen trust, allowing for peaceful political transitions. However, elections also have a history of being undertaken incorrectly, causing instability and internal turmoil. Issues such as disinformation, electoral violence, as well as a lack of access to voting stations and identification are all major factors that could act as barriers to electoral governance. The Foundation examines each of these issues below and proposes ways to mitigate them.


1. Quality information – Navigating global challenges to electoral governance:

The evolution of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) has made the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation relatively easy: For example, in the Russia–Ukraine war, AI was used (allegedly by Russia) to create a “deepfake” video of President Zelensky conceding the war. (Deepfakes are realistic visual media representations created with the use of AI ) This video was then posted on a Ukrainian news website.

The internet, through social media, allows for such false news to be shared globally instantaneously. 

These mechanisms (AI and social media) can easily be utilised by parties to influence voter opinion or discredit certain electoral candidates. The spread of propaganda by foreign actors and/or outside players stands to vastly discredit the attainment of free and fair elections. Propaganda may also be employed to swing voter opinion, erode trust in candidates and policies, as well as undermine the sovereignty of states, all in a bid to protect national interests. 

Governments are looking for ways to deal with these issues. America, for example, is now considering regulating platforms such as TikTok and Facebook. In Pakistan’s most recent elections, its caretaker government shut down the internet, calling into question the integrity of the elections. 



The Constitution guarantees everyone’s right to freedom of expression (which expressly includes the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas). Indeed, freedom of expression is the lifeblood of a democracy.

Even though the internet can be used for nefarious purposes, it is still an important (perhaps the most important) platform through which we exercise our freedom to receive and share information. Thus, we cannot eliminate this freedom in an attempt to deal with the problem of misinformation, disinformation, fake news and propaganda. Rather, we need to find a solution that will protect our democracy, as opposed to killing it. 

There are ways to deal with disinformation: South Africa needs to encourage good media literacy in our citizens: Educating citizens on how to research and investigate truths for themselves. By doing this, voters retain agency and not fall victim to disinformation. In addition, we cannot forget the important role  journalists play in upholding the truth and integrity of the media industry by exposing the truth and ensuring accountability. News websites can also be incentivised to provide fact-checking information, perhaps even in all official languages.  


2. Electoral Violence:

With South Africa headed to the polls this year there is a fear that the elections might uncover the fragile state of our democracy. The 2021 July unrest opened the eyes of the nation to the vulnerability we face. Cautioning such unrest in the upcoming elections, the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa released a statement to the nation in which he asked citizens to respect the results of the election process. 



Although such forms of violence are spontaneous, there are ways it can be mitigated while still ensuring free and fair elections. One way that this could be found is through the inclusion of an international electoral observer mission who confirm the validity of the election’s result. The Democratic Alliance (DA) requested such technical assistance to preserve the integrity of the electoral process, whilst also expanding efficiency at voting stations across the country.


3. Identity documents:

Access to identity documents is crucial for citizens to exercise their political right to vote in elections (section 19(3) of the Constitution). Even though no citizen may be deprived of citizenship (section 20 of the Constitution), many South Africans encounter problems with obtaining birth certificates (and then later, identity documents (ID) when these children become 16), or applying for IDs at the Department of Home Affairs (“DHA”). This is due to continuous backlogs and the “system being down” which exasperates the backlogs. By the end of 2023, it was reported that approximately 800 000 South African IDs were blocked (because of supposed identity theft). The South African High Court ruled it unconstitutional and that the Department of Home Affairs should unblock these IDs. While this is an issue throughout the world, we see, just like in South Africa, that the judiciary plays an ever more important role in protecting the right of people to vote. This is why the independence of the judiciary is vital. 

Without a valid ID, they (upon turning 18) cannot register to vote. These potential voters cannot access voting stations and cast their vote even though the desire might be there. Their right to citizenship and their right to vote are being hampered by bureaucracy.



State-private partnerships are crucial to solving incapacities in the State system: The DHA has entered into such a partnership with a number of banks. DHA’s online platform allows one to apply for a Smart ID card and passport and then schedule an appointment at a participating bank’s appointed branch. While this does not solve the birth certificate backlog problem, it does allow for those with birth certificates to apply for their ID. This partnership allows crucial services to be delivered to citizens, despite the system and capacity problems the DHA is experiencing. This partnership should be expanded across more banks and more services.


Uphold the Constitution:

While authoritarian leaders are winning elections with landslides, democratic states fear the elections might expose undemocratic practices – Democratic backsliding. It is, therefore, important for ordinary South Africans to know and come to love the founding values of our country. (Dignity, equality, freedom, non-racialism and non-sexism, supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law, universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.)

Likewise, to win back South African’s confidence in democracy, political leaders elected in the next election need to lead in a way that is accountable, responsive and open to the citizens that elected them.

If South Africans cherishes these values our country is founded upon, no matter what forces of opposition arise, in the present and future, the Constitution will always prevail.

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