AUGUST 7, 2017 – South Africa’s parliament will vote by secret ballot Tuesday on a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete said, in a surprise move that may increase the chances of his ouster.
“I have considered the environment and heard voices expressing doubt in the integrity and values of our 20-year-old constitution,” she told reporters Monday in Cape Town. “We therefore have to use this opportunity to show responsiveness to our people.”
The no-confidence motion requires the backing of a majority of the 400 lawmakers to pass. A secret vote increases the odds of Zuma’s ouster because members of the ruling party can vote him out without risking losing their jobs. Zuma, 75, who’s due to step down as leader of the African National Congress in December and as president in 2019, has defeated several previous attempts to oust him.
The rand posted its biggest gain in almost a month, jumping as much as 2 percent before trading 1.4 percent stronger at 13.2636 per dollar by 4:33 p.m. in Johannesburg. The yield on benchmark government bonds due December 2026 dropped 9 basis points to 8.57 percent.
“This is game on — a big moment for South Africa’s democracy,” said Richard Calland, a political analyst and associate law professor at the University of Cape Town. “Mbete realized that to make a legally rational decision and to follow the guidance being provided with such clarity by the constitutional court, she really had no alternative.”
The main opposition Democratic Alliance filed the no-confidence motion in April after Zuma’s decision to fire Pravin Gordhan as finance minister prompted two ratings companies to downgrade the nation’s debt to junk. The opposition argued that since parliament elects the president by secret ballot, it should be able to use the same process to remove him. The nation’s top court ruled that the speaker should determine the voting procedure.
“Today’s decision gives us the best opportunity to set South Africa right,” DA leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters in Cape Town. “Zuma must be removed on behalf of the millions of South Africans. The secret ballot gives the opportunity to ANC lawmakers to freely and fairly exercise their consciences.”
While there is mounting disgruntlement with the ANC over Zuma’s leadership and his immersion in a succession of scandals, the party says it will resolve its leadership issues internally and won’t allow its lawmakers to side with the opposition to bring down Zuma’s administration.
The ANC said it accepted Mbete’s decision.
“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,” the party said in a statement. “Where there are concerns with the leadership of the ANC, the ANC will continue to engage and work with our people to resolve these challenges in the interest of the country as a whole.”
The ANC has ruled Africa’s most-industrialized economy since apartheid ended in 1994 and has a 62 percent majority in the National Assembly. Fifty ANC lawmakers and all opposition legislators would have to back the no-confidence motion for it to pass — a move that would force Zuma and his entire cabinet to resign.
The chances of Zuma being ousted are slim, said Robert Schrire, a political science professor at the University of Cape Town.
“My feeling is that most anti-Zuma members of the ANC think it is better to keep Zuma in place until the end of the year than to tear the party apart,” he said. “He is already on the way out. He is a lame duck.”