National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise has refused to allow a secret ballot ahead of Thursday’s debate and vote on a motion of no confidence in President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The house is due to debate and vote on the first motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa, sponsored by the African Transformation Movement, a party with only two seats in the National Assembly.
The ATM wrote to Modise over the weekend, asking her to allow a secret ballot during Thursday’s debate.
The ATM argued that it was important to allow a secret ballot to allow some ANC MPs opposed to Ramaphosa to vote according to their conscience and protect them from possible victimisation.
The ATM was hoping to capitalise on divisions within the ANC and get support from other opposition MPs.
But Moloto Mothapo, the spokesperson for parliament, said Modise declined the request for a secret ballot as the ATM did not provide sufficient evidence that the current political climate was toxic enough to warrant a secret vote.
Mothapo said this was consistent with a Constitutional Court ruling in 2017 on a similar matter.
Mothapo also said a secret ballot would also be almost impossible to administer, given that most MPs were connected to sittings of the house via virtual platforms or working from home due to Covid-19.
“In making a decision, the speaker must therefore consider the constitutional imperatives of transparency, openness and public participation, on one hand, and ensure MPs can exercise their functions without intimidation or hardship on the other hand,” said Mothapo.
“The Constitutional Court in 2017 indicated that a secret ballot becomes necessary where the prevailing atmosphere is toxified or highly charged.
“The ATM has not offered proof of a highly-charged atmosphere, intimidation of any member or any demonstrable evidence of threats against the lives of members and their families, which may warrant a secret ballot.
“As public representatives of the electorate, members are not supposed to always operate under a veil of secrecy. Considerations of transparency and openness sometimes demand a display, as the Constitutional Court asserted, of ‘courage and resoluteness to boldly advance the best interests of the members of the [National Assembly], no matter the consequences, including the risk of dismissal for non-compliance with the party’s instructions’.
“The speaker was also mindful that the current virtual or hybrid sessions of the National Assembly, which are part of the institutional measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, would in any event render the practicalities of a secret ballot very challenging.”