What the motion of no confidence means for Baleka Mbete

Damned if you do, damned if you don't? (Paul Botes, M&G)

Damned if you do, damned if you don't? (Paul Botes, M&G)

Parliament Speaker Baleka Mbete will soon reveal if MPs will vote by secret ballot in the motion of no confidence against President Zuma. With aspirations of being the next ANC president, and a party that demands loyalty, Mbete may have either an opportunity or be at a disadvantage.

Over the weekend Mbete spoke about the secret ballot decision before her since the Constitutional Court made its judgment. The speaker said that regardless of what decision she announced on Monday, she would face criticism.

“You don’t wish to be me, it’s a difficult place to be. It’s what Sotho people call kgomo ya moshate [damned if you do, damned if you don’t],” Mbete told the Sunday Times

And she could be right. While opposition parties such as the UDM, the EFF and the Democratic Alliance have fought for a secret ballot, political analysts such as Steven Friedman have said “democracy will be the big loser” if these attempts succeed. A democracy, Friedman has argued, should be transparent and not secret.

“Elected representatives speak for voters – their votes are everyone’s business. And it’s easier to buy a lawmaker’s vote if the public doesn’t know which way they voted,” Friedman wrote in Business Day.

If Mbete decides that there will be a secret ballot, she risks creating a precedent of secrecy that allows MPs to shield their votes instead of making them transparent. But if she denies a secret a ballot, she’ll be fiercely accused of putting her party before public interest.

Already, EFF leader Julius Malema is prepared to take Mbete to court should she decide against a secret ballot.

“The papers are ready. When she gives that letter, we will not even read the whole thing, but just the conclusion. Once she says ‘open vote’, we are serving her.

“She has to give rational reasons. Failure to do that, and we will take her to court. We know she is unreasonable,” Malema told News24. 

The Concourt said MPs have a right to vote with their conscience instead of their party, and Mbete should provide reasons for her decision to show it is rationale. If Mbete is taken to court once again and loses, it will be the second time this year she has been proved wrong in the courts.

The hopeful president
Should the vote of no confidence against Zuma succeed, Mbete will be fast-tracked to the presidency. She will be acting president until Parliament elects a new president, which has to be done within 30 days.

It’s no secret Mbete has thrown her hat in the race to become the next ANC president. She, along with 6 others, are squaring off to win support in the party. But if she decides on a secret ballot, she will be viewed as supporting the opposition – something which many members within the ANC view as a betrayal of the loyalty they prioritise.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has said members of his party who would vote with the opposition on Tuesday are guilty of the “highest level of betrayal”, while party chief whip Jackson Mthembu has said that outspoken ANC MPs Makhose Khoza and Mondli Gungubele are of ill-discipline for stating they would vote with the opposition.

Derek Hanekom, Pravin Gordhan, Naledi Pandor, Aaron Motsoaledi are among those who have joined Khoza and Gungubele is publicly declaring they will vote against Zuma.

Mbete hasn’t said how her vote will swing, but she’s a known member of the Zuma faction in the party. Her decision on a secret ballot may impact the support she is trying to cultivate as she rallies for the position of president, political analyst Susan Booysen has said.

“Baleka is a Zuma supporter, but she also has presidential aspirations and the removal of Zuma will not only give her an opportunity to be acting president but  perhaps also time for her to prove herself,” she said. 

The current president and Mbete’s future
Friedman believes it is unlikely, even if there is a secret ballot, that Zuma will be removed tomorrow. He wrote this week that the opposition parties’ calls for a secret ballot would set an undemocratic precedent for a vote that would not yield Zuma’s removal.

“There is a great irony in these attempts to override democracy to get rid of Zuma. They are almost certainly futile since there’s little prospect the vote will remove him, even if it is held in secret,” Friedman wrote in the Conversation

ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize has told the Mail & Guardian that the party has not discussed what would follow if Zuma was removed. He said that it “may not even be necessary to get to that discussion”.

Mbete’s presidential chances lie with a party that will support her at the ANC’s elective conference in December, but by allowing a secret ballot she would be defying the party’s stance not to vote with the opposition, would be blamed for the removal of an ANC president, and would be viewed as disloyal to the party.

As the Speaker of Parliament, she has already lost a significant amount of trust from opposition benches and the public as a result of allegations that she “protects” Zuma instead of acting fairly and objectively in her position in the National Assembly

Her decision today could mount a further attack on her – with political parties, like the DA and the EFF, already firmly believing she will decide on an open vote – but Mbete said over the weekend that she was still mulling it over.

“I am still applying my mind. It’s not the best place to be in ... That’s all I’m prepared to say to you.” she told the Sunday Times

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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