Should political parties’ “broken” election promises be illegal? Analysts speak out

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Refilwe Moloto speaks with Professor Cathy Powell and Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar on how voters should hold politicians to account.

  • Legally, there is no way to challenge politicians who make false promises suggest legal and political analysts
  • Confidence in politicians in South Africa is at its lowest, suggests analyst Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar
  • It’s more about who voters trust rather than who they agree with, says Professor Cathy Powell

A polling station at Milnerton Baptist Church in Cape Town. Photo: Siyabonga Sesant / EWN

Political parties like to make promises, but do they keep their promises?

As we get closer to the polls, today we examine whether political parties’ “broken promises” are unconstitutional.

Political analyst Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar and Professor Cathy Powell, Associate Professor of Public Law at the University of Cape Town, join Refilwe Moloto this morning.

There is very little control over the promises applicants can make. I think there should be as much hindsight on the false claims they make about the present, as on their promises [about the future].

Professor Cathy Powell, Public Law – UCT

The problem with promises is that voters are supposed to hold them to account.

Professor Cathy Powell, Public Law – UCT

Powell refers to promises made in the last election or current promises that cannot be kept.

However, she says, there is no way to legislate to make people behave realistically.

You can’t legally make people realistic.

Professor Cathy Powell, Public Law – UCT

The EFF, for example, promises free education, health care, sanitation and housing. It is surely not within the financial capacity of South Africa’s budget, suggests Refilwe Moloto. Isn’t that something voters can hold politicians to account for from the start, she asks?

The reality of the world and what politicians are prepared to say are far removed. Just like the promises of the EFF concerning the creation of completely new tax regimes which fall only under the national treasury and the mandate of the minister, but also on police matters,

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar, political writer and analyst

He cites examples of the EFF’s promises of new tax regimes despite this mandate sitting with the National Treasury and the Minister of Finance.

Likewise, he said, there are other party promises regarding policing.

We have a lot of local parties here in the Western Cape promising a whole bunch of new policing arrangements that they don’t have a mandate to make.

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar, political writer and analyst

Municipal funding comes primarily from taxpayers and some provincial and national allocations for specific services.

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar, political writer and analyst

The reality of these promises is never juxtaposed with what is possible.

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar, political writer and analyst

As voters, we must hold politicians to account. In the local parishes, where we see this kind of ridiculous promises, we have to tell ourselves if they are ready to confuse the truth, what else are they ready to do?

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar, political writer and analyst

Confidence in our politicians is at its lowest.

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar, political writer and analyst

Some 9 to 15 million qualified people are not even among the 26 million currently registered on the electoral roll, he said, referring to both the problem of apathy and frustration.

So people are withdrawing from the system.

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar, political writer and analyst

It started to boil down to who do we trust rather than who do we agree with.

Professor Cathy Powell, Public Law – UCT


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