Speaker Baleka Mbete’s announcement of a secret ballot in the motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma signals the start of an intense game of persuasion tonight as those who are for and against Zuma fight to have their way.
While some opposition parties have started celebrating the awarding of a secret ballot, their festivity may be short lived if the ANC manages to close ranks and the opposition fails to unite fully.
At present those who want Zuma gone need the votes of at least 50 ANC MPs in addition to the opposition’s 151, assuming the opposition is fully united.
While it was believed that the SACP would likely contribute 17 of those votes in line with its calls for Zuma to step down, it has said it won’t support anything that is anti-ANC, signalling that the communist party may not support the motion.
The ANC caucus has also used sentiment and scare tactics to warn its MPs against supporting the vote of no confidence with chief whip Jackson Mthembu likening voting Zuma out to dropping a “nuclear bomb” on South Africa.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald interrupted celebrations by fellow opposition leaders by warning against over-confidence.
Groenewald has raised the possibility that Mbete’s decision to grant a secret ballot may have been made with the knowledge that the ANC had the numbers it needed for the motion to fail.
“It can also be seen that they are sure that their people will toe the party line, that it is in the interest of the ANC and not the president as such. So we must be careful, as far as that is concerned,” he said.
The ruling party released a statement welcoming Mbete’s decision saying it has “full confidence in the ANC caucus and individual members of Parliament deployed by the African National Congress.
We do not nor have we ever doubted their loyalty and discipline in relation to the decisions of the movement”.
However, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema expressed confidence that ANC MPs would vote with their conscience but hinted that opposition parties were themselves split.
“We are more than confident that we will get the desired numbers from the ANC and opposition parties … because there are other opposition parties who were threatening members to vote for president Zuma,” Malema said.
His view was echoed by Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota who said some opposition parties were not fully united behind the move to oust Zuma.
“People have misconstrued this drive for a secret ballot as if it’s only for the ANC. This is completely wrong. There are sister parties in the opposition ranks which are divided down the middle and they too are going to benefit from this decision of the speaker,” Lekota said.
For Mbete the failure of the motion is a win-win situation. Her granting of the secret ballot today was the first step of presenting herself as the hero of South Africa’s democracy. Should the motion fail she also would have presented the ANC with an opportunity to gloat about its unshakeable unity despite the odds.
Failure could however further isolate the ANC from its unhappy electorate.
But the success of the motion is likely to have harsh consequences for Mbete’s own presidential ambitions as she will likely face isolation for her role in toppling Zuma and leaving the ANC vulnerable to the opposition’s ridicule. Regardless of the outcome, she would have positioned herself as South Africa’s hero for putting the Constitution first.
On Tuesday morning representatives of all political parties will meet with Mbete to decide on the procedure by which the vote will happen. United Democratic Movement (UDM) president Bantu Holomisa said they will insist that the same procedure be followed as when a president is elected in the National Assembly.
This entails voting booths being set up in each corner of the house and the independent electoral commission overseeing the voting and counting, and providing ballot papers.
“But they must not call us up by our names. We can stand in queues to vote,” he told the M&G.
Lekota said the speaker should agree to a process by which MPs cast their votes on blank pieces of paper or ballots that are not traceable through numbers, to offer security to dissenting ANC MPs.