ConCourt ruling leaves ball in Mbete’s court

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete. File photo.
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete. File photo.
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete will have to make a decision on whether the vote on the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma should be conducted by secret ballot when the matter is tabled before Parliament.

The Constitutional Court on Thursday left it to Mbete to decide on whether the vote should be done in secret.

This is after the court on Thursday ruled that Mbete had made a mistake in deciding that the rules of parliament and the constitution do not give her powers to authorise a secret ballot.

In a unanimous judgment read out by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng‚ the court said: “It is declared that the Speaker of the National Assembly has the constitutional power to prescribe that voting in a no-confidence motion in the president be conducted by secret ballot.”

Mbete had argued that neither the Constitution nor the rules of the National Assembly allowed her to prescribe a secret ballot.

The court set aside her decision and referred the UDM’s request to allow the vote on the motion of no confidence in Zuma to be conducted by secret ballot to Mbete to make a decision.

The court found that to order a secret ballot would be entrenching the separation of powers.

The court’s decision followed an application by the UDM‚ asking the court to order that the vote is conducted by secret ballot.

The application by the UDM came after Zuma reshuffled his cabinet in March‚ which resulted in him firing former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy‚ Mcebisi Jonas. The actual debate on the motion of no confidence was postponed by Mbete to allow for the court application to be finalised.

After Zuma’s decision‚ the country’s credit rating was downgraded to junk status and the country has since slipped into a recession.

Opposition parties have been calling for a secret ballot as they believe there are members of the ANC who are tired of Zuma’s troubles with the Guptas and the manner that his administration is handling state-owned entities.

ANC says no confidence motion will fail – secret ballot or not

The parties described the judgment as a “triumph of democracy”.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said that his party has been vindicated and is pleased that members of parliament will now be “constitutionally free” to vote with their conscience.

“The UDM is vindicated because we asked the Speaker to use her prerogative‚ but she put the interests of her political party ahead of parliament. This judgment also means that the threats which have been issued by Zuma and others … fall flat now.

“Those MPs are free to vote and follow their conscience. The UDM, as well as other political parties, are going to continue to seize the initiative up until 2019. You cannot vote for a questionable character and vote that questionable character into high office‚” said Holomisa.

“Those MPs are free to vote and follow their conscience. The UDM, as well as other political parties, are going to continue to seize the initiative up until 2019. You cannot vote for a questionable character and vote that questionable character into high office‚” said Holomisa.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Leigh-Ann Mathys said: “You can be sure that in unity we will shut it [the country] down. This is your opportunity to shut down the country‚” she said.

“The constitutional clauses that the court dealt with today have not been interpreted before‚” said COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota.

“In interpreting them‚ the court has made it clear that those of us who are elected‚ once elected and having taken an oath of office‚ owe it to the people of South Africa as a whole that no political party can compel a member of parliament to vote against their conscience and against their judgment‚” Lekota said.

DA Gauteng caucus leader Jack Bloom said about the judgment: “We will write to the Speaker and have the motion actioned as soon as possible. The decision is both rational and constitutional.”

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said whether Mbete authorises a secret ballot or not‚ she will have to give “sound reasoning.

“This constrains her space to manoeuvre‚ making it very difficult for her not to allow a secret motion‚” Mathekga said.

BY NOMAHLUBI JORDAAN – TimesLIVE

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