Jacob Zuma narrowly escaped his eighth no confidence vote in Parliament last Tuesday since becoming President of South Africa in 2009. However, like the heyday of the PNC rigged elections in Guyana such an outcome can be greeted with the news that ‘the shame is greater than the victory’. Today the popular view is that the ANC, one of Africa’s oldest liberation organizations, that once stood on very high moral ground under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and others is now tarnished.
The Financial Times op-ed on 9th August argued that the “majority of the ANC members who let the president off the hook, despite having their first opportunity to vote in secret, have let themselves and their country down”. It continued that “Mr. Zuma is a disgraced politician, whose dirty laundry has been washed in the public again and again and whose behaviour has sullied the hard won reputation of both country and ANC party”. In spite of Mr Zuma’s victory, the jury is still out and public opinion has finalized their judgment on him.
Despite the outcome, the vote in the South Africa parliament by secret ballot represents a landmark decision for effective parliamentary democracy. This decision was made possible after South Africa’s top court ruled that it is legal for a secret ballot to be held for a motion of no confidence in the beleaguered South African President Jacob Zuma on a vital issue of parliamentary democracy. In handing down a unanimous ruling by the full bench, Chief Justice Mogoeng argued, “a vote in parliament should not be a fear or money inspired sham… crass dishonesty in the form of bribe taking or other illegitimate method of gaining undesired majorities must not be discounted from the speaker’s decision process, when that happens in a motion of no confidence the outcome betrays the people’s interest”.
Further, it is most commendable that the Speaker in South Africa’s Parliament allowed a vote by secret ballot that is in stark contrast to Guyana, where despite popular outcry and fractured and conflicting positions from members of the ruling APNU+AFC coalition the Speaker refused to debate a motion on the draconian tax on private education, much less allowing a vote on it.
There is a parallel inference that can be drawn from both the ANC and the PPP actions since the passing of their charismatic and non-corrupt leaders Nelson Mandela and Dr Cheddi Jagan. Corruption, cronyism and isolation from the ordinary people have become the order of the day for both the ANC and PPP. Even more blatant, the issue of a secret ballot was ruled out as an option on the selection of its presidential candidate by the PPP in 2011. A flawed selection process led to Donald Ramotar being the preferred candidate over Mr Ralph Ramkarran, himself a reputable Senior Counsel, and a long-standing leader in the PPP compared to a pack of novices. Mr Ramotar’s candidacy led the PPP into two successive electoral losses in 2011 and 2015.
Even more disturbing, its founding leader Dr Cheddi Jagan was a strong advocate for the exercise of a vote via secret ballot. In 1978, Dr Jagan’s motion supported by Ashton Chase at the TUC conference for a secret ballot to determine TUC support for a new socialist constitution was rejected. After support by the show of hands for a new constitution, Dr Harold Lutchman declared that the “turkeys have voted for an early Christmas” – it could hardly have been put better.
Had a secret ballot been held by the PPP in 2011 to determine its candidate, both the party and the people of this country would have been spared the political, social and economic decay and discontent that now stalks this land. The thirty odd ANC members who voted for the ousting of Mr Zuma show that all is not lost as there are still principled members around. The same can be said of the PPP. Both the ANC and PPP face crucial national elections in a few years. However, their success depends on them ridding their leadership of the entrenched lackeys of the oligarchic class.
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