/ 21 November 2014

Opposition unites against EFF MPs’ suspension

Opposition parties in Parliament stood firm against a motion by the ANC to censure the EFF MPs who chanted "pay back the money".
Opposition parties in Parliament stood firm against a motion by the ANC to censure the EFF MPs who chanted "pay back the money".

When Julius Malema and his party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), were elected to Parliament in May this year, he vowed that Parliament will never be the same.

He was indeed correct.

For the first time in 20 years, parliamentarians approved departmental adjusted budgets, debated the mid-term budget, voted on it, rose on points of order and continued to heckle each other in a marathon plenary session that went on until 3.59am on Friday.

The session had begun at 2pm on Thursday, but due to programming disagreements, there was a six-hour break between 2.42pm and 8.45pm for political parties to iron out their programming differences.

At the end, the National Assembly sat and considered eight of the 10 items, which were listed on Thursday’s order paper.

This was after the opposition parties stood firm against the ANC and forced the ruling party to delay the suspension of EFF MPs from Parliament until a later stage.

In an unprecedented move, all opposition parties stood together in opposing an ANC attempt to push through the censure of EFF MPs who chanted “pay back the money” to President Jacob Zuma in August this year.

The ANC had unilaterally reinstated in the National Assembly’s programme the adoption of the Powers and Privileges report, which recommended that 20 EFF MPs be suspended from Parliament and that had been postponed earlier in the week and referred to a political process for its resolution. 

The ANC had also sought to rearrange Thursday’s programme of the National Assembly without consulting any of the opposition parties. The parties objected and stood firm in their opposition.

In the end, they managed not only to save the EFF MPs – albeit for a moment – but also insisted that the parliamentary peace process, which is facilitated by deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, be revived and a meeting of all opposition party leaders with Ramaphosa be held next week.

Not an easy fight
The Ramaphosa peace deal that was struck on Tuesday this week had not only called for a cease fire in Parliament, but had referred contentious political issues such as the sanctions against the EFF MPs to a special political committee led by Ramaphosa that would deal with the issues politically. 

It was not an easy fight for the smaller parties. In fact it took a five-hour meeting of all the chief whips of parties that are represented in Parliament and Ramaphosa’s parliamentary council, Gerhard Koornhof, to convince the ANC.

The five-hour meeting took place during yet another unprecedented moment in Parliament when the National Assembly was adjourned for just over six hours as MPs tried to iron out their differences behind closed doors.

Trouble started right at the beginning of the plenary session at 2pm.

The ANC’s chief whip Stone Sizani tabled a draft resolution for the House to only deal with the notices of motion and motions without notices at the end of the programme.

Generally, the motions are high up on the programme of the National Assembly and the rules of the National Assembly provide for such a sequence of proceeding to be followed.

Recently notices have been used by both the ANC and the opposition parties in the National Assembly to filibuster – a tactic used in Parliaments to delay processes for political reasons.

The problem with Sizani’s proposal was that he was proposing a significant change to the day’s programme without prior consultation of other political parties.

The National Assembly has different forums that discuss and in a consensus agree to the programme of the House and the sequence of that programme. Naturally, Sizani’s draft resolution was objected to. Firstly, by the EFF MPs and later, one by one, opposition parties’ representatives stood up in the House to object to the resolution.

MPs warned that Sizani was going against the Constitution and parliamentary rules and that his proposals would set a bad precedent for future Parliaments. 

Realising that there was an impasse, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly Lechesa Tsenoli called for a 10-minute break, for whips of the parties to consult and try to resolve the matter. That was at 2.42pm. The house reconvened at 8.45pm just over six hours of what was supposed to be a 10-minute break, and following a number of tense meetings between the political parties and between the parties’ own caucuses.

“It was the most fruitful meeting for the opposition and for Parliament,” quipped DA chief whip John Steenhuisen told the Mail & Guardian as MPs streamed into the chamber at the resumption of the day’s programme.

“Cool heads prevailed there,” he added.

Steenhuisen said all opposition parties had stood firm against the ANC to remove the report of the powers and privileges committee from the day’s programme. 

Motion to censure Zuma
The opposition was also saying the DA’s motion to censure Zuma, which was debated and rejected on Wednesday night, was not part of the issues that had been put in abeyance to be dealt with by the political committee, he said.

ANC MPs had accused the DA during Wednesday’s debate of backtracking on the peace deal by proceeding with the motion to censure Zuma.

Ramaphosa issued several similar statements between Wednesday and Thursday putting blame on the DA for ruining the peace agreement with their motion to censure Zuma.

DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane responded by accusing Ramaphosa of misrepresenting the agreements between the parties. He reiterated that the DA’s motion of censure against Zuma, for his failure to appear in the House to answer oral questions, was always on the order paper of Parliament, and was agreed to by all parties. 

“There was absolutely no agreement at the Tuynhuys meeting for the DA to withdraw this motion, and any suggestion that there was such an agreement is simply not true. All opposition parties in Parliament agree with this recollection of the meeting – there was no mention of the DA’s motion at all,” said Maimane.

Maimane confirmed that the agreements with Ramaphosa on Tuesday included, inter alia, that a committee would be formed, that it would meet next week, and that debate on the powers and privileges committee report into the EFF would be postponed until the committee of leaders met.

“The latter of these agreements has in fact been broken by the ANC.”

Meanwhile, the ANC in Parliament said it was pleased that, following “exhaustive engagement” among representatives of political parties in Parliament on areas of disagreement relating to the agenda of the National Assembly, parties had been able to reach a consensus. 

The ANC revealed that the National Assembly would extend its programme to next week instead of the House rising on Thursday as previously scheduled.