The debate on the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma has become such a political hot potato that neither the Speaker of the National Assembly nor the leader of the Democratic Alliance wants to withdraw.
This comes after the United Democratic Movement’s (UDM) Bantu Holomisa threw a spanner in the works after asking the Constitutional Court to consider his application to rule whether the motion could be decided by a secret vote.
The court has asked all parties intending to oppose his application to file responding papers by no later than next Friday‚ April 21. This has led to calls for the no confidence vote‚ scheduled for Tuesday‚ April 18‚ to be postponed until the court has pronounced on the matter.
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and DA leader Mmusi Maimane‚ who has proposed the motion‚ were engaged in a day long toing-and-froing match over the issue on Wednesday with neither side prepared to relent.
Mbete insisted that the rules of the national assembly did not give her the authority to withdraw the motion while Maimane and his chief whip John Steenhuissen repeatedly emphasised that they were not asking for a withdrawal but rather a postponement.
Mbete could once more be subjected to intense criticism from within and outside the African National Congress (ANC) if she forges ahead with next week’s vote as doing so could be seen as her way of protecting Zuma in the absence of clarity on the secret ballot by the court.
Withdrawing it‚ on the other hand‚ would have cost implications for the legislature as flights have already been booked for close to 400 MPs after they were recalled from their Easter break.
Steenhuisen said “no one wants to withdraw the motion”. “We are simply asking that it be rescheduled‚” he said. Mbete had the power to do so in terms of rule 129‚ he added.
Steenhuisen said the DA was not willing to take the risk of withdrawing a motion already on the programme of parliament because it would then need to go through the whole process of approval and scheduling again.
He said that Parliament also had a duty to respect the judicial process.
“We’re not talking of delaying it by months and months‚ the return date for the Constitutional Court is April 21‚” he said
Mbete’s spokesman‚ Moloto Mothapo‚ cited a different rule to argue their case‚ saying a motion could only be withdrawn by its sponsor‚ not the Speaker‚ in terms of rule 128.
“The motion of no confidence‚ which the Speaker scheduled for April 18 at 2pm in the National Assembly‚ in line with the urgent request‚ is tabled under the name of the leader of the opposition‚ Mr Mmusi Maimane. Therefore‚ in terms of the provision in the Rules‚ only Mr Maimane — and not the Speaker — has the power to withdraw the motion‚” said Mothapo.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa accused Mbete of “playing tricks” and “delaying tactics” by trying to force a withdrawal. Holomisa said Mbete should engage with the DA.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the apparent confusion showed how crucial the court decision was to the no confidence vote. “The court case is material to the motion‚” said Mathekga.
“The thing is it’s a procedural issue and you cannot in the country expedite any issue that the court is still waiting to act upon.”