Civil society organisations and the media can play a vital role in informing and educating the public.
This was heard at the launch of My Vote Counts’ campaign on Intra-Party Democracy at the District Six Homecoming Centre on Wednesday April 24.
My Vote Counts is a non-profit organisation that aims to improve the accountability, transparency and inclusiveness of elections and politics in the country.
Their mission is to ensure that the political and electoral systems are open, fair and accountable to the public and that they remain relevant in the changing South African socio-political context.
Their latest campaign, Intra-Party Democracy, aims to look into the country’s political parties and how democratic they are.
Director, Joel Bregman, said they’ve been working on this campaign since last year and they hope that it will be an important tool that civil society, media and the public at large use to promote change and educate communities on how political parties operate.
He said they believe that the political parties should be using intra-party democracy to promote decentralisation of power in the party and to allow fair and inclusive membership participation.
“An understanding of how political parties operate is key and as we head into elections, it’s imperative that the public has as much information as possible to decide who to vote for and who they can put their trust in,” he said.
Mr Bregman said the court’s ruling that citizens have the right to be informed about private funding of political parties was an important milestone in the country’s democracy.
“We’re looking forward to the new regime where political parties will be forced to publicise this vital information,” he said.
Researcher, Zahira Grimwood, said the political parties are not strongly challenged because the public is not informed. She said early this year they sent all the political parties a questionnaire on how democratic they are, but none of them responded to it, even though they were all given a five-week deadline.
She said there’s no regulator for political parties and the parties do not always follow their own constitution and sometimes the courts have to be involved.
“We need to be active participants in building the democracy, it’s impossible to have access in every court case but by asking the right questions, we can encourage more investigation on public scrutiny on the lack of intra-party democracy being upheld by parties,” she said.
“How are you going to take this to communities?” asked an attendee, Gilbert April.
Ms Grimwood said this is a long-term project and they plan to have more workshops in different parts of the city. She said the abuse of power within political parties has gained significant attention in the media, but there is still a gap of publicly available information and they aim to close it.