Opposition MPs did not advance a convincing argument

Last week’s motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma was defeated because the opposition failed to put up a strong argument as to why he had to go, writes YONELA DIKO

A motion of no confidence in the Head of State and Head of the Executive is a very important matter. This point was made very clear by the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who went further to say, “Good governance and public interest could at times haemorrhage quite profusely if that motion were to be left lingering on for a considerable period of time”. The point was equally made by the Speaker of the National Assembly, who said the vote of no confidence is a very serious matter, a potent tool towards holding the President to account, connected to the founding values of accountability and responsiveness to the needs of our people.

The motion, therefore, deserved to be prioritised for attention within a reasonable time. It is in this light that the Speaker moved swiftly to set a date for the motion in order to arrest whatever effects a lingering perception on this vote can have. The only delay was, naturally, on deciding the operation of such a motion, which required a proper and rational method that would weigh in prevailing material conditions and law.

The Speaker, of course, was ultimately of the view that the prevailing material conditions would require the vote of no confidence motion be conducted via a secret ballot.

The first reality the Speaker needed to consider is the fact, as stated by the Chief Justice, that “anybody, including Members of Parliament or of the Judiciary anywhere in the world, could potentially be ‘bought’ when their voting in such a consequential motion is in secret”. When that happens in a motion of no confidence, the outcome could betray the people’s best interests. This possibility must not be lightly or naively taken out of the equation as a necessarily far removed and negligible possibility when the stakes are too high. Crass dishonesty, in the form of bribe-taking or other illegitimate methods of gaining undeserved majorities, must not be discounted from the Speaker’s decision -making process”.

The Speaker had to make sure then that “the correct exercise of Parliament’s powers in relation to a motion of no confidence in the President, must, therefore, have the effect of ensuring that the voting process is not a fear or money-inspired sham but a genuine motion for the effective enforcement of accountability”.

Although the people who voted members of Parliament are entitled to know, because of the principle of openness, how their members are conducting themselves inside Parliament, including how they are voting, in the atmosphere of fear and intimidation, the Speaker decided that in this particular instance it would be prudent to conduct the motion through a secret ballot. Which is exactly what she did.

The decision by the Speaker was seen as a victory by opposition parties who for some reason, did not register that all members of Parliament are using their own reasons and their own fears and analysis to arrive at deciding on the motion. Conducting the motion in secret may eliminate the fear of retribution but it does not eliminate the members’ ability to reason.

The question, therefore, is that after ‘fear of retribution’ was eliminated through a secret ballot, which had been sold as the main reason why ANC MP’s continue to vote to keep their President, why did the motion continue to fail.

Here are the facts. Irrespective of who brought the motion, all members of Parliament know, as reminded by the courts, that a no-confidence vote is a crucial accountability-enhancing instrument that forever reminds the President and Cabinet of the worst repercussions that could be visited upon them, for a perceived or actual mismanagement of the people’s best interests. They all know that a no confidence vote, as succinctly stated by the Chief Justice, constitutes one of the severest political consequences imaginable – a sword that hangs over the head of the President to force him or her to always do the right thing.

Equally, more intelligent MP’s know that a no-confidence motion, unlike impeachment, does not necessarily require any serious wrongdoing, though this is implied. And the Constitution does not say when or on what grounds it would be fitting to seek refuge in a motion of no confidence. So, unlike an impeachment, which requires serious wrong-doing such as a conviction through a court of law, there is constitutionally no grounds overtly stated for a vote of no-confidence motion to be tabled. That is why speaker after speaker of the opposition was all over the place because each has his/her own reasons why they have lost confidence in the President.

The opposition parties, therefore, spent no time putting together a convincing argument to those MP’s they were courting to vote with them but relied on simply dealing with ‘fear of retribution’ as if this would answer a multitude of questions. This was their biggest failure but it was also underestimating what has happened in the last eight years of a Zuma Presidency.

Presidents that were elected around 2009, the same time President Zuma was elected, such as Gordon Brown of Britain, Nicolas Sakorzy of France, never made it into their second terms, mainly because they could not jump start their economies after the economic crash of 2008. Even Barack Obama battled to get the second term in 2012, it was the economy: stupid! Most of the complaints about Zuma are about the economy, the downgrades, the recession, the unemployment, and of course the link of all of these to his personal lapses in judgement and decision making.

There is obviously 200 MP’s who don’t think all these are linked to the President’s decision making. Our export market is 50% commodities, and with the slowing down of China, the demand for our commodities is slow, which affects mining, jobs, and the rand since mining makes us heavily exposed to the export market. Given that SA 40 Index, 70% of its income and trade comes from its top ten, which has more mining companies like Anglo and BHP, some think this is more of a problem than reshuffling Pravin Gordhan, who even when he was a Finance Minister did not really have great ideas of growing the economy. Our local market has diversified but our export market needs serious diversification.

Secondly, other MPs, of course, are convinced that “To engage with the powers that consolidate the status quo half-heartedly is to concede defeat before one has begun” and Zuma has engaged with the stronghold that white monopoly capital has on the economy in ways that no other President has done before, and again these became part of real consideration by MP’s whether to vote for the motion or not. Since the risk of retribution was eliminated, what was left was such analysis on the perceived link between Zuma decisions and the economy.

The real matter is that, unlike an impeachment which requires serious wrong-doing, a no confidence motion requires persuasion and a factual convincing of other members, and not just a secret ballot.

On putting a convincing pitch both to MP’s and on the floor of the National Assembly on why Zuma must go, opposition MP’s failed.

Diko is a Media Consultant and Strategist 

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