Johannesburg – National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete must make a rational decision on whether or not to allow MPs to vote by secret ballot in the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was clear in his judgment on Thursday when he ruled in favour of opposition parties seeking clarity on whether Mbete has the power to prescribe that voting in the motion of no confidence could be conducted by secret ballot.
He said: "There must always be proper and rational basis for whatever choice the speaker makes in the exercise of the constitutional power to determine the voting procedure."
The Constitutional Court ruled on an application brought by the United Democratic Movement (UDM).
Political parties were due to debate a motion of no confidence in Zuma on April 18, but the UDM, Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance asked for a postponement after the Constitutional Court allowed the UDM direct access to argue its case that MPs be allowed to vote in the motion by secret ballot.
In a unanimous judgment, penned by Mogoeng, the court set aside Mbete’s April 6 statement that she did not have the power to enforce a secret ballot.
He said Mbete was mistaken when she said neither the Constitution nor the rules of the National Assembly allowed her to authorise a vote by secret ballot.
"Our interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the rules makes it clear that the speaker does have the power to authorise a vote by secret ballot in motion of no confidence proceedings against the president, in appropriate circumstances," Mogoeng said.
He said the request by the UDM would be sent back to Mbete for her to make a fresh decision. Mbete and Zuma were ordered to pay costs in the case.
Mbete to act accordingly
In its arguments before the court on May 15, the UDM's legal representative Advocate Dali Mpofu said all South Africans wanted was to know that MPs, who had been elected to represent them, were voting with integrity, and that a secret vote would ensure that.
Mpofu argued that Mbete had failed to hold the executive to account, after receiving a request to table the motion of no confidence in a letter addressed to her in April, as she was obligated to do.
The opposition asked Mbete to schedule the vote of no confidence in Zuma after his controversial Cabinet reshuffle at the end of March, which saw Pravin Gordhan axed as finance minister.
It was initially set down for April 18.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa argued that Zuma's reshuffle had led to two ratings agencies downgrading the country to junk status.
In addition, he said MPs had been threatened with losing their seats and with violence if they voted against Zuma.
Mbete previously said the UDM's application had no merit and it did not fall within the court's exclusive jurisdiction.
She said, if the court found she had the power to order a motion of no confidence via secret ballot, she would act in accordance with its ruling.