'This is not setting a precedent' - Speaker Mbete on Zuma secret ballot

07 August 2017 - 17:56 By Staff Reporter
 National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete.
National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete.
Image: Esa Alexander

IN FULL: Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete provides her reasons for allowing a secret ballot during the Motion of No Confidence debate in President Jacob Zuma.

Fellow South Africans‚ following the Constitutional Court decision that I‚ as Speaker of the National Assembly‚ have the constitutional power to prescribe the voting procedure in a motion of no confidence in the President of the Republic of South Africa to be conducted in the National Assembly‚ either by way of a secret ballot or open vote‚ and having taken due‚ independent and impartial consideration of all the legal‚ constitutional and political factors below‚ especially those articulated by the Constitutional Court‚ in a balanced and rational manner‚ bearing in mind that some of these factors may be contradictory in nature‚ I take this opportunity to present to the country my decision on the matter.

I have taken this extraordinary approach in the interests of transparency and also having taken account of the huge interest in this matter which has been expressed in various quarters of society. I‚ therefore‚ wish to appeal to members of the media that I will not take questions after this briefing.

At the outset‚ I wish to indicate that it is always important for societal actors‚ in particular political parties‚ to have confidence in our courts and in our Parliament. I‚ therefore‚ find the public pronouncements and calls that the Speaker will act in a partisan manner‚ reprehensible and unpalatable for our democracy. I am elected by the Assembly to perform the role of Speaker and as long as that has not changed I will not recuse myself. Thus‚ the call for the Speaker to recuse herself from the proceedings tomorrow has no constitutional basis and is‚ therefore‚ legally misplaced.

Fellow South Africans‚ all facts‚ factors‚ circumstances and information available to me that I have taken into consideration in making this decision‚ include the following:

1. On 22 June 2017‚ the Constitutional Court (CC) ruled that a vote of no confidence in the President of the Republic of South Africa (President) is constitutionally permissible whether through an open vote or secret ballot and that I‚ as the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA)‚ have the constitutional power to decide the voting procedure for such vote of no confidence.

2. So‚ although the Constitution does not prescribe a specific voting procedure for the removal of the President by way of a motion of no confidence‚ it does permit for a voting procedure which may be either by way of an open vote or secret ballot and the making of such decision lies exclusively with me‚ as Speaker‚ in terms of the Rules of the NA.

3. I am mindful of the fact and the Constitutional Court has reminded me of this fact that I‚ as Speaker‚ when exercising this exclusive constitutional power to determine the procedure of voting in a motion of no confidence‚ must do so on a proper and rational basis. In this respect‚ I‚ inter alia‚ invited the political parties who are represented in the NA to provide me with submissions on their views of the matter‚ and also requested to be provided with legal advice‚ which I took into consideration before deciding this matter.

4. I understand and accept that a motion of no confidence in the President is a very important matter; a potent tool towards holding the President to account; one connected to the foundational values of accountability and responsiveness to the needs of the people; that it constitutes one of the severest political consequences imaginable; especially that a threat of a motion of no confidence “will remain virtually inconsequential in the absence of an effective operationalising mechanism to give it the vital bite‚ when necessary”.

5. I also understand and accept that central to the freedom of a Member of Parliament (Member) “to follow the dictates of personal conscience” is the fact that the Member takes an oath of office of faithfulness to the Republic and obedience to the Constitution and laws‚ and there is no constitutional obligation for a Member to swear allegiance to his or her political party.

6. Therefore‚ when I exercise this constitutional power I understand and accept that I must be duly guided by the need to ensure that Members exercise their oversight powers effectively and it must be in the interest of the people and in obedience of the Constitution‚ to enable effective accountability of and over the Executive. I have also considered the fact that the Constitutional Court has indicated that a motion of no confidence in the President of the Republic of South is a very important matter‚ in fact it is a very important tool used to hold the President to account.

7. I am cognisant of the fact that the Constitutional Court also enjoined me‚ when exercising this power‚ to take into account considerations of the foundational constitutional principle of openness and transparency entrenched in the Constitution. I am particularly mindful of the fact that section 1(d) of the Constitution sets “openness” as a foundational principle for the Constitution and our democracy. The Constitution further instructs that the National Assembly must conduct its business in an ‘’open manner’’.

8. As representatives of the electorate‚ Members are not supposed to always operate under a cover of secrecy. Considerations of transparency and openness sometimes demand a display of courage and resoluteness to boldly advance the interests of those that they represent‚ no matter the consequences‚ including the risk of dismissal for non-compliance with party instructions.

9. The Constitutional Court indicated that the electorate is at times entitled to know how their representatives carry out even some of their most sensitive obligations and this includes voting in a motion of no confidence. However‚ this reality may not always be possible where there are instances of intimidation. In terms of the Constitutional Court judgment if Members are constitutionally obliged to vote according to their conscience it follows that no Member can suffer any harm‚ hardship or punitive action if they comply with the Constitution and vote according to their conscience. A reading of the Constitutional Court judgment suggests that any action of a political party against a public representative who voted in accordance with their conscience may be struck down for violating the Constitution.

10. The value of openness and transparency is always our natural manner of conducting business‚ and which we should never take for granted. The Constitutional Court has however compelled us to consider a variety of other factors.

11. The Constitutional Court has indicated that a secret ballot becomes necessary where the prevailing atmosphere is toxified or highly charged. It is my duty to act responsibly when I assess how my decision will impact on all members. I have conducted a thorough assessment of the situation and how it will impact on all members

12. The Speaker must maintain and preserve the order of and the proper decorum in the House and uphold the dignity and good name of the House. Parliament is a forum for public consideration of issues. This Parliament is seized with a responsibility to deal with complex issues. The people of South Africa look to Parliament to give direction during challenging times. We dare not underestimate this privilege and responsibility.

The people of South Africa also 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. This decision is‚ therefore‚ in the best interest of the country.

13. The Speaker is required to guard the procedures of this House and to ensure that the outcome of this very important vote is credible. The Speaker must do this without fear or favour. It is with that in mind that this decision is also about putting the resilience of our democratic institution to test.

14. Having considered all the factors‚ and mindful of the fact that this decision is not setting a precedent‚ I determine that voting on the motion of no confidence in the President on 8 August 2017 will be by secret ballot.

 

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