JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s top jurists ruled Thursday parliament can hold a no-confidence vote against the president by secret ballot — but left the ultimate decision to the house’s speaker, who has been one of the president’s staunchest defenders.
"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‚" Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said in a unanimous judgment Thursday.
He added that although Baleka Mbete, speaker of the National Assembly and a close Zuma ally, can make the decision, she also has an obligation to make sure her decision is “neither for the benefit of the speaker nor his or her party.”
Calls for ouster
Opposition parties and some prominent figures within President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress have called for his ouster amid a slew of long-simmering corruption scandals. His second presidential term expires in 2019.
The top opposition Democratic Alliance called for the no-confidence vote earlier this year in response to Zuma’s widely unpopular decision to fire a well-respected finance minister and reshuffle his Cabinet. The political upheaval prompted a major ratings agency to downgrade the nation’s sovereign credit rating, which has negatively impacted the economy.
Secret vote request
But then, the smaller United Democratic Movement asked for the vote to be made secret, in what was widely seen as a bid to encourage members of Zuma’s party to avail themselves of anonymity and turn on their leader. When Mbete said she did not have the authority to call for a secret ballot, the party took the matter to the Constitutional Court.
The leading opposition party, while hailing the ruling as a victory, said in a statement: “the Democratic Alliance’s vote in the upcoming motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma will be no secret.”
Meanwhile, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu told local media on Thursday the party welcomed the ruling — and that it would vote in support of Zuma.
The opposition party said it had written to Mbete asking for the matter to be scheduled as soon as possible.