A parliamentary vote of no confidence in South African President Jacob Zuma will be held by secret ballot, the national assembly Speaker said Monday.
Some say the move, announced by Baleka Mbete, could encourage some members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to oust the president who has been in power since 2009.
The vote is seen as a test of the ANC’s unity as senior party figures become increasingly critical of their leader, who has been implicated in multiple corruption scandals.
Meanwhile the country’s economy has fallen into recession and unemployment has risen to record levels.
The 75-year-old is due to step down as head of the ANC in December and as president before the 2019 general election – lessening pressure for his party to seek imminent change.
Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete today announced the news which opposition parties had wanted.The ruling has been subject to a long legal battle, and the vote on Tuesday evening could be delayed by further court appeals.Protests by pro- and anti-Zuma groups are planned in Cape Town, home of the South African parliament, later on Monday and on Tuesday.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance party said the vote was ‘an opportunity for us all to stand up to corruption and get rid of President Zuma and his cabinet.’
A group of ANC veterans from the anti-apartheid struggle also called for MPs to vote against Zuma, who was himself imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island under white-minority rule.
South Africa is ‘witness to larceny on a grand scale, leaving the country not only impoverished, but also increasingly in the hands of criminalised and compromised governance,’ the veterans said in a statement.
‘The motion of no-confidence in President Jacob Zuma is an inevitable outcome of the myriad scandals in which he has regrettably embroiled himself and his office,’ they added.
The ANC has fought back, saying it expects its lawmakers to back the president.
Party chief whip Jackson Mthembu said ousting Zuma would ‘have disastrous consequences that can only have a negative impact on the people of South Africa’.
But he acknowledged recent criticism of the ANC, and the impact of a cabinet reshuffle in March when respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan was replaced with a Zuma loyalist.
Gordhan’s sacking led to a string of downgrades to South Africa’s credit rating as well as causing the rand currency to tumble.
Public support for the ANC, which swept to power under Mandela in the first non-racial elections in 1994, slipped to 55 percent in last year’s local polls – its worst-ever election result.
But Zuma has easily survived several previous parliamentary votes attempting to oust him, due to the ANC holding 249 seats in the 400-seat parliament.
Nomura analyst Peter Attard Montalto said in a note to investors last week that he did not expect the vote to succeed, even if there was a secret ballot.
‘There is a higher probability of the vote being passed under a secret ballot (but) ultimately we think most anti-Zuma MPs worry a secret ballot will not be secret because of the involvement of the security services and numbered ballot papers,’ he wrote.