Zuma's fate rests with Parliament in secret vote

President Jacob Zuma.
President Jacob Zuma.

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma faces the biggest threat to his eight-year presidency on Tuesday when the 400-seat Parliament votes on a motion of no confidence in him by secret ballot.

The debate on the motion, which needs a simple majority to pass, is due to begin at 14:00 in Cape Town and is scheduled to last for 85 minutes.

Baleka Mbete, the speaker of the National Assembly, would become acting president should Zuma be ousted and the assembly must then elect a replacement within 30 days or general elections will be called. Zuma’s entire Cabinet would have to step down.

The opposition filed the motion of no confidence after Zuma fired the respected Pravin Gordhan as his finance minister, which prompted two ratings companies to downgrade the nation’s debt to junk and sparked massive public protests. Mbete ruled on Monday that the vote must take place by secret ballot to prevent intimidation of MPs.

Zuma has survived seven previous votes on no confidence motions or impeachments, all by open ballot.

“Nobody knows how the MPs are going to vote because their public utterances don’t necessarily reflect how they feel,” said Robert Schrire, a political science professor at the University of Cape Town. “There is always a chance that Zuma goes, but people who speak very confidently that he will are misleading themselves.”

Zuma’s scandals

Zuma’s tenure has been marred by a succession of scandals that have weighed on investor confidence and sent the economy into recession. The prospect of him going cheered the markets, with the rand gaining as much as 2% against the dollar on Monday after the decision to hold the secret ballot was announced. The currency was little changed at R13.2320/$ at 10:20 in Johannesburg.

“The rand will crash through 13” to the dollar if the no confidence vote passes, said Kevin Daly, a portfolio manager at Aberdeen Asset Management. “Zuma being forced to resign is not priced in. Most people expect him to survive this vote.”

Senior party officials, including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, have spoken out against deepening corruption and the undue influence of private business interests over government institutions, known as “state capture.”

A report by the Public Protector in November said that Zuma and some ministers may have breached the government’s code of ethics in their relationship with the Gupta family, who are in business with one of Zuma’s sons. Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.

Protesters demanding Zuma’s removal began gathering in the streets of Cape Town on Tuesday ahead of the debate, and security personnel sealed off streets and erected barricades around the parliamentary complex.

The ANC’s parliamentary caucus is due meet before the debate, with Zuma likely to attend. The party has ruled the economy since apartheid ended in 1994 and has a 62% majority in the National Assembly. Fifty ANC MPs and all opposition legislators would have to back the no confidence motion for it to pass.

While there is mounting disgruntlement within the ANC over Zuma’s leadership and his immersion in a succession of scandals, the party says it will resolve its leadership issues internally and won’t allow its MPs to side with the opposition to bring down the government. A handful of the party’s senior members have, however, said they will break ranks.

“We must vote against state capture, massive looting and corruption,” Derek Hanekom, a member of the party’s caucus, an ex-Cabinet minister and one of Zuma’s most outspoken critics, said in a Twitter posting. “I have confidence that ANC MPs will do the right thing and serve their country and a constitution.”

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