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Post-elections: The Road To Establishing The National Assembly Of The Seventh Democratic Parliament

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Moloto Mothapo

In democratic countries such as South Africa, Parliament plays a crucial role in making legislation and holding the government to account. Under a proportional representation electoral system, Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected to represent the people of the country and act as their voice. Parliament, therefore, is accountable to the people of South Africa.

Every five years, the people of South Africa have the opportunity to cast their votes for a new Parliament. Each new five-year term of Parliament is numbered. For example, in the elections of 1994, people voted for the first democratic Parliament, referred to as the First Parliament. The Second Parliament followed after the general elections in 1999, the Third Parliament in 2004, the Fourth Parliament in 2009, the Fifth Parliament in 2014, and the Sixth Parliament in 2019.

On Wednesday, South Africans cast their votes in the country’s seventh non-racial democratic election to determine which political parties and, for the first time, independent candidates will represent them in Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures. As the legislative authority of our democratic republic, the National Assembly must ensure a government by the people by choosing a President, providing a national forum for public consideration of issues, passing legislation, and exercising oversight over the executive’s actions.

The National Assembly may be constituted with no fewer than 350 and no more than 400 members.

The National Assembly is elected for a five-year term according to Section 49 of the Constitution. When the term expires or the Assembly is dissolved, the President must call an election within 90 days. Although the term of this Assembly expired on 21 May, it continued to function until the day before the first day of the elections, which was midnight on 28 May.

Currently, there is no National Assembly, and the process to establish the new House has commenced.

Handling of Election Results

Election results must be declared within seven days after an election in terms of Section 57 of the Electoral Act. Following this, members of the National Assembly are designated by the Independent Electoral Commission, and the Commission then hands these lists to the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, who then hands them over to Parliament.

First Sitting of the National Assembly

The first sitting of the National Assembly must occur no more than 14 days after election results are declared. The Chief Justice of the Republic determines and gazettes the date for this sitting. Before members of the National Assembly perform their functions in the Assembly, they must swear or affirm faithfulness to the Republic and obedience to the Constitution, under Schedule 2 to the Constitution. After the swearing-in of members, the Chief Justice presides over the election of the Speaker of the National Assembly, who must, in turn, preside over the election of the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.

The President of the Republic is the last to be elected by the House because the Assembly must be duly constituted first to exercise its power to elect the President. The Chief Justice presides over the election of the President.

Rules for the First Sittings

The Office of the Chief Justice has officially gazetted the rules for the first sittings of the National Assembly. These rules, as approved by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on 27 May 2024, outline the procedures for the election of key parliamentary and provincial officials, including the President, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, and the Chairperson and Deputy Chairpersons of the National Council of Provinces.

Election of President of the Republic

The election of the President, who is chosen among the members of the Assembly, is conducted by the Chief Justice of the Republic. When elected President, a person ceases to be a member of the National Assembly. Within five days, he or she must assume office by swearing or affirming faithfulness to the Republic and obedience to the Constitution at an inauguration ceremony.

Term of the President and Executive

The term of the President, along with the members of the Executive, only ends when the new President is sworn into office by the Chief Justice of the Republic. This is usually during the inauguration ceremony after the National Assembly has elected the President. This is intended to ensure there is no gap in the country’s administration between the election and the assumption of office by the incoming President.

Opening of Parliament Address

Once the President has assumed office, he or she must appoint the Cabinet. Further, the President, in conjunction with the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, determines a date for the Opening of Parliament Address.

According to the new joint rules of Parliament, the Opening of Parliament Address (OPA) is now distinct from the State of the Nation Address (SONA). The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is held annually in February to outline the government’s plans and priorities for the year and report on the state of the nation. The Opening of Parliament Address (OPA), on the other hand, occurs once every five years, after elections, to announce the new administration’s plans and to mark the beginning of the new five-year parliamentary term.

The Opening of Parliament is more than a ceremonial occasion – it is a platform where the government’s vision and priorities are presented, setting the tone for the legislative and administrative actions that will follow. It also symbolises the functioning of the new Parliament, reflecting the continuity and stability of governance.

Orientation of New MPs

Newly elected MPs are inducted and oriented through a structured orientation programme. This programme typically includes briefings on parliamentary procedures, ethical guidelines, legislative responsibilities, and administrative processes. The orientation also often involves training sessions on effective communication, law-making, and constituency management, ensuring that new MPs are well-prepared to fulfil their roles effectively.

Venue for the First Sitting

Parliament is fully prepared, and all necessary arrangements have been made for establishing the new National Assembly. Comprehensive plans are in place to ensure a seamless transition, including onboarding new Members of Parliament. The first sitting and onboarding venue has been secured at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).

Parliament will, in due course, provide the comprehensive process that will be followed in establishing the National Council of Provinces of the seventh democratic Parliament.

 Mothapo is the spokesperson for Parliament.

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