South Africa's Electoral Commission to seek to delay municipal vote

July 23, 2021 9:44 AM EDT

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Electoral Commission said on Friday that it would seek to delay municipal elections scheduled for October, after an inquiry recommended that they be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The inquiry said in a report published this week that it doubted the vote would be free and fair if held on Oct. 27 as planned. It advised that voting be deferred to a date not later than the end of February 2022, when more COVID-19 vaccines would have been administered and population immunity levels would be higher.

South Africa is experiencing a third wave of coronavirus infections and its vaccination campaign has only just started to gather pace after a slow start. So far, it has fully vaccinated less than 4% of its 60 million population.

Commission Chair Glen Mashinini told a news conference the elections body would approach "a court of competent jurisdiction" to allow the vote to be held outside the timeframe prescribed by the constitution, which requires that elections are held within 90 days of the expiry of the five-year term of a municipal council.

The last such vote was in August 2016, when the performance of the governing African National Congress (ANC) was its worst since it came to power at the end of apartheid in 1994.

Mashinini said it was not yet possible to say which new date the commission would seek for the vote, as it was still consulting its lawyers. "We don't know whether the courts will actually grant this request," he added.

It is not clear what impact delaying the vote will have on the outcome of the elections for local, district and metropolitan councillors.

The ANC is widely expected to win them, though recent riots have highlighted frustration with its achievements.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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