National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete has acceded to a request by opposition parties to hold Tuesday’s vote on a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma by secret ballot.
She said the decision “is about putting the resilience of our democratic institutions to test” and was taken “in the best interests of the country”.
“People of South Africa look to Parliament for signals of hope. I have considered the environment and heard voices expressing doubt in the integrity and values of our 20-year-old Constitution. We therefore have to use this opportunity to show responsiveness to our people,” she said.
Mbete made the announcement on Monday regarding her decision on what the appropriate voting method would be for the vote in the National Assembly.
Flanked by her deputy speaker Lesetja Tsenoli and other presiding officers, Mbete said by granting the secret ballot, she was guarding the procedures of the National Assembly and to ensure that the outcome of the vote was credible.
“The speaker must do this without fear or favor. It is with that in mind that this decision is also about putting the resilience of our democratic institution to test,” she said.
Mbete refused to take questions after making the announcement.
The motion of no confidence, the eighth so far, was brought by the Democratic Alliance, while the secret ballot was requested by the United Democratic Movement (UDM).
Led by its president Bantu Holomisa, the UDM approached the Constitutional Court to compel Mbete to do so. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng found that Mbete held the power to decide whether the vote can be conducted by secret ballot.
Mogoeng set out strict considerations the speaker would have to take into account before deciding on how the vote would be conducted.
He said Mbete’s rationale for her decision must be based on promoting oversight.
“That is her judgment call to make‚ having due regard to what would be the best procedure to ensure that members exercise their oversight powers most effectively,” the chief justice said in his June judgment.
“The correct exercise of parliament’s powers in relation to a motion of no confidence in the president must therefore have the effect of ensuring that the voting process is not a fear or money-inspired sham but a genuine motion for the effective enforcement of accountability.”
The UDM, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the DA have argued that these guidelines make it nearly impossible for the speaker to reject their request for a secret ballot.
Before making her decision, Mbete said she had asked all political parties to declare their preference, through written submissions, for how the vote should happen. The ANC’s chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, said the governing party is not opposed to conducting the vote in secret, adding that the motion would be defeated.
Mthembu has called a “three-line whip” in the ANC caucus for tomorrow’s sitting – a compulsory order for all its MPs to attend.
Mbete’s decision to conduct the vote by secret was taken amid threats by the EFF that it would head to court to interdict Tuesday’s vote if she decided otherwise.
Both the EFF and UDM have claimed that more than 60 ANC members have guaranteed their support of the opposition parties motion, if it is held in secret.
The ANC said it welcomed Mbete’s decision. “The ANC reiterates its stance that we have full confidence in the ANC Caucus and individual members of Parliament deployed by the African National Congress,” the party said in a statement. “We do not nor have we ever doubted their loyalty and discipline in relation to the decisions of the movement. Accordingly, we have no doubt that this frivolous motion, which has been hyped up by opposition parties as some sort of Damascus moment, will fail like many before it.”