Johannesburg - The ANC’s decision to try to block a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma in Parliament has caused an unprecedented stand-off with opposition parties that was due to play out at a meeting on Thursday.
Announced after an emergency caucus meeting at Parliament on Wednesday, the ANC’s move prompted the DA to warn of a looming constitutional crisis and a stifling of debate in the national legislature.
National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu is now in the hot seat - a heavyweight in the ruling party, his parliamentary mandate is to act in the interests of the institution.
On Thursday, he was to preside over a meeting of the Assembly’s programming committee, where the ANC was to oppose the scheduling of the debate - while representatives of eight of the 11 parties in Parliament that are backing it will argue that it should go ahead.
While the ANC said there was unanimous agreement at its caucus meeting that “this is a frivolous motion”, not founded in fact and thus could not be entertained, an expert on parliamentary procedure said back-up evidence for such a motion was not a requirement.
Retired secretary to the Assembly Kaspar Hahndiek said the constitution was clear. It offers two ways of toppling a sitting president: section 89 - impeachment; and section 102 (2), which provides for a no-confidence motion.
A push for impeachment requires that those making it back it up with hard evidence that the president is in breach of the law or the constitution.
But Hahndiek said a no-confidence motion was a “political assessment” of leadership. In other democracies, majority parties used it when there was an internal backbench revolt to remove a head of state and his cabinet.
With the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference barely four weeks away, speculation that the ANC was running scared - unsure of its own backbenchers - was to be expected.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said the real reason the ANC did not want the vote to take place was that “its leaders cannot secure the support they need within their own ranks to vote down the motion”.
“They know, as do I and almost every other opposition party represented in Parliament, that President Zuma has not done enough during his term of office to continue to maintain the support of South Africans, which we all represent,” Mazibuko said.
With 264 Assembly seats, the ANC has 66 percent of the vote. A motion of no confidence in the president needs only a simple majority (50 percent plus one, or 201 votes) to succeed.