News analysis

The story behind the secret vote and why our Speaker is so coy about it

01 August 2017 - 12:57 By Ranjeni Munusamy
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Baleka Mbete.
Baleka Mbete.
Image: Esa Alexander

Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete is certainly biding her time before announcing whether she will allow a secret ballot during next week’s motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma.

This is probably the last time Mbete will hold so much power in her hands – unless of course she does grant the secret ballot‚ the motion succeeds‚ Zuma is toppled and she becomes stand-in president until a new leader is elected.

With a week to go before the seventh motion of no confidence against Zuma‚ and the ANC battling to suppress MPs from rebelling against its directive to vote in support of the president‚ there is no indication whether Mbete would grant the secret ballot.

But what is Madam Speaker’s game and why is it taking so long for her to announce her decision?

The weekend’s ANC national executive committee lekgotla gave her the opportunity to consult her party and the decision must be made by now. But she is still dragging the matter out.

Ironically‚ it is the Democratic Alliance‚ whose leader Mmusi Maimane sponsored the motion of no confidence‚ that could decide how the matter plays out.

After the Constitutional Court ruled on June 22 that it was her discretion to grant a secret ballot‚ Mbete invited “interested parties to submit their views regarding their preferred means of voting on this particular motion”.

“The Speaker will make her decision whether the motion will be processed through a secret ballot or not before… August 3‚” Parliament said in a statement on June 30.

On July 16‚ Parliament issued another statement saying Mbete had received submissions from nine of the 13 parties represented in the National Assembly.

Zuma is the DA’s biggest campaign asset and he has been the biggest factor in turning voters against the ANC.

The ANC and Democratic Alliance indicated they would abide by Mbete’s decision while the other seven parties opted for the secret ballot.

It is because of this dynamic that Mbete could be delaying her announcement.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema indicated they would immediately challenge her decision in court and some of the other opposition parties are likely to join the application.

But the DA‚ which was not party to the United Democratic Movement’s application to the Constitutional Court on the secret ballot‚ appears not to favour the secret ballot.

If voting is in secret‚ there is a real possibility that the motion of no confidence against Zuma would succeed as there are enough disgruntled ANC MPs who would support it.

Zuma is the DA’s biggest campaign asset and he has been the biggest factor in turning voters against the ANC. For as long as Zuma remains president‚ the DA can continue to dance around the grave the ANC is digging for itself.

But if voting were done in the open‚ many of the ANC MPs who are opposed to Zuma would be wary about defying the party line. This would give the DA another opportunity to “name and shame” ANC MPs who continue to support Zuma.

At a media briefing on Monday‚ ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said those MPs who did not agree with the party’s directive were “free to take a walk”. He said ANC MPs were not “free agents” who could vote according to conscience.

“If they had a conscience‚ they should have discovered it before they agreed to be in Parliament on an ANC list‚” Mantashe said‚ quite astonishingly.

He also condemned as “unacceptable” statements by Mondli Gungubele‚ the latest ANC MP to speak out against Zuma. The Gauteng ANC has since gagged Gungubele from speaking further on the matter‚ while their KwaZulu-Natal counterparts have charged MP Makhosi Khoza with ill discipline.

The threats of disciplinary action against ANC MPs would strengthen the arguments the opposition parties could make to a court about why the secret ballot was necessary.

But will they have the opportunity to take the matter back to court if Mbete declines the secret ballot?

The ANC obviously wants the motion to be over and done with so it can continue on its path of self-destruction‚ with Zuma steadfastly at the helm.

But because the ANC and DA indicated to Mbete that they would “abide” by her decision‚ an open vote could proceed next week if both parties agree to push ahead. The smaller parties might demand that the matter be put on hold pending their court challenge.

But the motion is Maimane’s to keep on the table or withdraw.

The closer Mbete pushes the matter towards D-day‚ the less likely it would be for the opposition parties to succeed in postponing the vote to take the matter to court.

The EFF‚ UDM and Cope had better get some assurances from Maimane that if Mbete blocks the secret ballot‚ he will withdraw the motion pending the outcome of their court challenge. All three of these parties were born out of the ANC and understand intimately the dynamics within the party that make the secret ballot necessary.

Of course‚ Mbete could surprise the country and grant the secret ballot. She did tell the Constitutional Court she was not averse to the idea.

If she does‚ August 8 could become a defining moment in South Africa’s history.

But let’s not forget Zuma’s Stalingrad survival strategy. So the matter might well land up in court with the President of the Republic as the applicant and the Speaker of the National Assembly as the respondent.

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