This follows the announcement by speaker Baleka Mbete that Parliament will hold its first ever secret ballot in a motion of no confidence debate.
Following a Constitutional Court ruling that the decision on whether to hold a secret ballot or not rested squarely on the shoulders of the Speaker of the National Assembly‚ Mbete took 46 days to apply her mind.
In announcing her decision during a media conference‚ Mbete said she believed a secret ballot was “in the best interests of our country” and would put “the resilience of the democratic institution to the test”.
And while opposition leaders roundly applauded the decision‚ IFP chief whip Narend Singh said they would write to chief whip of the ANC Jackson Mthembu to request an urgent meeting ahead of the debate to discuss the procedures around how voting would take place.
He said this was important as there should be no fear among MPs that people would be able to determine how they had voted.
There is some precedent for a secret ballot in Parliament as in 2009‚ COPE fielded a presidential candidate‚ Mvume Dandala‚ to contest against Jacob Zuma for the presidency. IEC ballot boxes were used in that vote.
Leader of the United Democratic Movement‚ Bantu Holomisa‚ who led the legal battle for a secret ballot said he hoped all MPs in Parliament would use the opportunity to “put South Africa first”.
“It’s time for public representatives to honour their oath of office‚” he said.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the decision was “historic” and he hoped it allowed MPs to exercise their conscience “freely and fairly”.
EFF leader Julius Malema said he hoped Mbete’s decision would inspire ANC MPs to go against the party line.
“If Baleka went against the party line‚ in the open‚ what stops an ANC MP from going against the line in secret?” he said. Singh said that while Mthembu had previously indicated that a removal of the president could be a “nuclear bomb”‚ he hoped that this bomb would be “cleansing”‚ ridding the country of “graft and corruption”.
He was hopeful that South African’s would wake up to Mbete as acting president on Women’s Day.
COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota called the decision “groundbreaking” and said that it now placed the responsibility “squarely on the shoulders of the men and women in Parliament”.
Leader of the ACDP Revered Kenneth Meshoe said he was “delighted that rationality has prevailed” while the Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Groenewald was more guarded in his response saying he hoped that it had not been made because the ANC and Mbete had been so confident that ANC MPs would toe the party line.
Mbete said she had taken “due and impartial consideration of all the factors” in making her decision and was mindful of the fact that a motion of no confidence was a “powerful tool towards holding the president to account”.
She said by allowing for a secret ballot‚ they would “use the opportunity to show responsiveness to our people”.
Mbete said she had given consideration to the “toxified and highly charged environment” as well as to threats to MPs choosing to vote with their consciences in making her decision.
Mbete said parties forcing members to toe a party line would fall foul of the Constitution.
“In terms of the Constitutional Court judgment if Members are constitutionally obliged to vote according to their conscience it follows that no Member can suffer any harm‚ hardship or punitive action if they comply with the Constitution and vote according to their conscience. A reading of the Constitutional Court judgment suggests that any action of a political party against a public representative who voted in accordance with their conscience may be struck down for violating the Constitution.”