Former president Thabo Mbeki has called on ANC MPs to vote in the interest of the people instead of those of the governing party when the National Assembly debates a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.
In a move bound to earn the wrath of Zuma’s supporters, Mbeki says MPs, including the president, were elected by citizens and were therefore accountable to them.
Mbeki says although it could be assumed that MPs must respect decisions of their parties, the Constitutional Court clarified their role in the Nkandla judgment.
“In this context, consistent with its constitutional mandate, among others, the Constitutional Court explained the place, role and tasks of our MPs, and therefore the National Legislature, strictly as defined by our constitution.
“It stated, correctly, that our MPs serve in Parliament as representatives of the people,” says Mbeki.
He adds that MPs from all political parties were elected by the people and therefore accountable to the voters.
The former statesman became the third ANC luminary to call on ANC MPs to consider the interests of South African voters over those of the party.
Former President Kgalema Motlanthe and veteran MP Ben Turok invited the wrath of the ANC for calling on the ruling party's MPs to vote with their conscience.
Mbeki insisted that MPs must act as the voice of the people, “not the voice of the political parties to which they belong”.
“It may be that the current controversy has, at last, imposed on our country the opportunity and obligation the better to define the constitutional and moral relationship between the people and their elected representatives.”
Mbeki’s comments came as the United Democratic Movement (UDM) filed a Constitutional Court challenge to force National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete to allow MPs to use the secret ballot on April 18 during the vote.
Yesterday, Parliament objected to the UDM’s court challenge, saying a secret ballot was not provided for in the constitution and rules of the National Assembly.
In his application for direct access to the Constitutional Court, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa argued there was constitutional and legal obligation for MPs to use their discretion when they vote on the motion of no confidence next week. He said MPs could not be beholden to their parties when they have a constitutional obligation to fulfil.
“The constitutional scheme thus recognises that the position of President is not something that should be determined by members of the National Assembly as mere extensions of their political parties. If this were the case, there would be no need for a secret ballot,” said Holomisa.
“It would, for example, be absurd and unlawful for a political party to demand that the voting member of the National Assembly should subsequently disclose how she or he had voted. This would defeat the whole purpose of the constitutionally prescribed secret ballot,” he said.
But Parliament said there was no provision in the law that allowed Mbete to allow for a secret ballot.
“Neither the constitution nor the rules of the Assembly provide for a vote of no confidence to be conducted by secret ballot, and the Speaker has no authority in law to alter such provisions,” said Parliament.
The institution said there was already a precedent set by the Western Cape High Court in 2015 when it threw out a similar application by AgangSA to force Parliament to use a secret ballot.
The National Freedom Party has, meanwhile, rejected calls to pass a motion of no confidence in Zuma, saying it was a futile exercise. The party said Parliament should rather amend the constitution to clip the powers assigned to Zuma and also deal with sections in the constitution to fight corruption-related issues.