Court says yes to floor-crossing

4 October 2002

The Constitutional Court has given the go-ahead for politicians to cross the floor and join another political party without losing their seats, in a ruling which is likely to make a significant impact on the country’s political landscape.

In a landmark ruling on Friday the Constitutional Court upheld legislation passed by Parliament on floor-crossing in June this year. Constitutional Court Judge President Arthur Chaskalson said a 15-day window period for defections at local government level would be allowed, starting on October 8.

Although the ruling, made unanimously by the 11 judges of the country’s highest court, applies to local level government only, it paves the way for the piloting of legislation in Parliament to allow for defections at national and provincial level.

In handing down the judgement Chaskalson said the Court came to the conclusion that “floor-crossing legislation for national, provincial and local government level is not as such inconsistent with the Constitution”.

The African National Congress (ANC) and the New National Party (NNP) are strongly behind the legislation but some minority parties are unhappy with it. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) put the brakes on planned floor crossings a few months ago when it gained a court order delaying the passing of the legislation by taking it first to the Constitutional Court.

When the order was granted, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said: “We should be proud that we still have our judicial system which is showing its independence – the state said we had no case.”

Strengthens democracy
The ANC has fought for the legislation in the belief that “it strengthens democracy because it gives elected public representatives the right to make choices within the confines of the Constitution’.

The NNP has also backed the legislation. There are nine councillors in the Western Cape, including several in the Cape Town unicity, who intend crossing from the DA to the NNP. The new ruling could swing the power balance in favour of the ANC in the unicity, which is ruled by an ANC/NNP alliance, and in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

SouthAfrica.info reporter