The United Democratic Movement has threatened to interdict next Tuesday’s no-confidence vote on President Jacob Zuma, pending the Constitutional Court’s pronouncement on its bid to have the motion decided by secret ballot.
The DA, which is the sponsor of the motion of no confidence‚ has also written to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete requesting a postponement on similar grounds.
Yesterday, the Constitutional Court ordered all parties intending to oppose the UDM’s application for an order on the secret ballot to file their opposing papers by the end of business on April 21.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said he had already instructed his lawyers to write to Mbete‚ requesting a postponement of the much-anticipated special sitting on April 18 until the secret ballot matter had been finalised by the court.
He said if Mbete rejected his request‚ the UDM would seek an urgent court order to interdict next week’s special sitting that was convened on an urgent basis‚ with MPs recalled from their Easter recess.
The UDM is asking the court to rule whether the motion should be decided by a secret ballot‚ arguing that this should be allowed as the president is elected by MPs in this fashion.
The party approached the highest court in the land after Mbete rejected its request for a secret ballot.
Holomisa said the urgency of the motion of no confidence needed to be sacrificed to get clarity on the secret ballot issue once and for all.
Parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo said, however, the debate would not be postponed “unless the sponsor decides to withdraw the motion”.
The motion of no confidence was sponsored by the DA and it has been joined by the EFF.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said: “It is important to allow the Constitutional Court the time to determine whether the motion can be conducted by secret ballot as we believe this would materially affect the outcome of the vote itself.
“As soon as a decision is taken‚ the motion must be debated before the assembly as soon as possible.”
Mothapo said Mbete was not opposing Holomisa’s court bid, but she differed with him on whether she had the power to determine whether MPs could deal with the motion through a secret ballot.
“With regard to whether motions of this nature ought to be conducted by way of a secret vote‚ the speaker holds no position on the matter,” he said. Mothapo reiterated that a Western Cape High Court ruling in 2015 had made it clear that there was no provision in the constitution or the rules of parliament for motions to be voted on by secret ballot.
However‚ University of Cape Town constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos said new rules adopted by parliament last year gave much more power to Mbete.
“Because the rules have changed‚ the speaker’s assertion that she has no discretion [to decide on a secret ballot in a no-confidence motion] is false,” he said. “The new rules say she has discretion.” The rules give the house and Mbete authority to alter voting procedures for a particular sitting.