/ 3 June 2024

South Africa starts countdown to elect new president and speaker following election results

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President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his remarks after the official announcement of the South African general election results at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) National Results Operation Centre at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, on June 2, 2024. (Photo by MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images)

Once the final election result was declared on Sunday night, the clock started counting down a 14-day deadline in the Constitution for parliament to convene to elect a new president and speaker of the chamber.

Section 86 (1) says that in its first sitting after an election the National Assembly “must elect a woman or a man from among its members to be the president”.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo will determine and gazette the date for this first sitting, where the newly elected members of the National Assembly will be sworn in before electing the new speaker of the house. When this is done, the speaker will then preside over the election of a deputy speaker.

Only after this, will the new president be elected by members, with the chief justice once again presiding over this part of proceedings.

Section 51 stipulates that this sitting must happen at a date determined by the constitutional court, but that it must happen no later than a fortnight after the final result is announced.

With the political landscape dramatically altered by the loss of the ANC’s long-held majority, coalition talks are underway, but so fraught with ideological battles and personal motives that it would be unwise to assume an agreement is certain within a fortnight.

It does not strictly matter because the voting procedure, set out in schedule 3 part A of the Constitution, provides for an elimination process whereby members will vote in successive rounds until one candidate receives a majority of votes.

The process will simply be longer and more complex than if there is an accord between parties who hold a clear majority of seats in the house on a presidential candidate.

All candidates must be nominated by way of a form signed by two members of the assembly. Voting will then take place by secret ballot.

Item 7 of the schedule says: “If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the candidate who receives the lowest number of votes must be eliminated and a further vote taken on the remaining candidates.”

“This procedure must be repeated until a candidate receives a majority of the votes.”

It even provides for the eventuality of two or more candidates each receiving the lowest number of votes, in which case “a separate vote must be taken on those candidates, and repeated as often as may be necessary to determine which candidate is to be eliminated”.

The law also makes provision for a scenario where only two candidates are nominated, or if only two candidates remain after an elimination procedure has been applied, and both receive the same number of votes. In that event, another sitting must be held within seven days.

If a coalition agreement is struck before the sitting, and there is only one consensus candidate, that person will be pronounced president by the chief justice.

The new president then ceases to be a member of the National Assembly, and must by law be sworn into office at an inauguration ceremony held within five days.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is understood to have no intention of stepping down in response to the ANC’s humbling loss of its majority and will therefore, barring a revolt within the party, be its nominee for president.

The uMKhonto weSizwe party of Jacob Zuma cannot nominate the former president because he was declared ineligible to become a member of the National Assembly due to his 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court.

The party disputes this disqualification, which was confirmed by the constitutional court nine days before the election, and may well make its objection felt in that first sitting of the National Assembly.

The country is not rudderless until the sitting takes place, though currently there is no National Assembly, the chamber having ceased to function on the eve of the elections.

But section 94 of the constitution says that when the country goes to the polls in national elections, the president, the deputy president, cabinet ministers and deputy ministers “remain competent to function until the person elected president by the next Assembly assumes office”. 

Parliament on Sunday issued a statement that Zondo has gazetted rules for the first sitting of the National Assembly, as required by the constitution. However his office said this would only happen by mid-week, once the election results had been formally handed over to him.