‘Whoever wins should be allowed to do their job’

2014-05-14 00:00

THE new parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance should remain in place for a full term to be effective, former DA leader Tony Leon warned yesterday.

“There has been a very high turnover of parliamentary leaders in the DA since 2007,” Leon told a gathering at the Cape Town Press Club. “They are now going to elect their fourth leader — in seven years. Whoever wins should stay and be allowed to do their job for five years, to establish themselves, to get rhythm and pace, and be effective.”

Taking questions after addressing the club about his new book, Opposite Mandela, Leon said, “If you keep replacing your parliamentary leader, you will have these issues recurring.” He was referring here to the problems in the party that have exploded into the public domain since the shock announcement by parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko that she was quitting to take up a year’s scholarship at Harvard University.

Leon also reiterated his belief that the party leader should also be parliamentary leader. “I don’t believe in a separation of power. If you become the leader, you should serve the party and Parliament.”

Lamenting the dilution of Parliament’s power over the past two decades, Leon said although the governing ANC was chiefly to blame, there were no “clean hands” in this demise. “The chief opposition party, by its leader choosing not to be in Parliament, has inadvertently helped diminish Parliament as an institution. If you want Parliament to be the central platform for public debate you have to send your most senior and most serious-minded people. That is my view. It was my view in 2006 and remains my view eight years later.”

Leon described Mazibuko as a “person of remarkable courage and intelligence” and national spokesperson Musi Maimane, who is potentially a candidate for the top party job in Parliament, as “smart, engaging with attractive qualities”.

Being a leader required lots of strengths and qualities, he said, and “only time will tell” if Maimane was the right person for the job, he said.

Leon felt there should be a contest for the position, and the parliamentary caucus should then choose their candidate. “The caucus must then be responsible for that choice, and help that person succeed. And the losers need to stand behind the winner.”

He advised the DA to not stray too far from their liberal principles in their drive for mass support. “What is the alternative to the nationalism of the old regime and this regime? It is liberalism. If you don’t stand up for this, you simply have two competing versions of nationalism.”

Speaking to Die Burger at the event, a former DA parliamentary leader, Sandra Botha, agreed that party leader Helen Zille should also be parliamentary leader. “Her not being in Parliament is disturbing and divisive. You can’t comment from the sidelines as if you are there. It detracts from the importance of Parliament, it is not taken seriously.”

The recent criticisms of the DA were valid, she said. “People are uncertain, there is tension. The DA must decide where to position itself politically.”

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