2 Dhul Qa’dah 1438 AH • 26 July 2017

Will MPs vote by their conscience?

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By Yaseen Kippie

Whether or not a secret ballot in the vote of no confidence goes ahead against President Jacob Zuma, the key question now is whether ANC MP’s will vote with their party, or will they be guided by their conscience. These were among the myriad of questions at a heated public debate this week, organised by the #UniteBehind A Just and Equal South Africa group at Community House in Salt river on Tuesday evening.

The public debate was aimed at informing the citizens of the democratic and parliamentary processes of the upcoming vote of no confidence, scheduled to take place on the 8th August. The result, as echoed by many politicians and analysts, is dependent on a number of factors.

Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete denied having the authority to choose the use of a secret ballot in the vote. United Democratic Movement (UDM) President Bantu Holomisa, who had suggested the secret ballot, submitted an application for the case to be taken up by the Constitutional Court of South Africa (ConCourt). In June, the ConCourt ruled that the Speaker of Parliament does have the authority to choose whether the ballot should be secret or not.

At the packed public event, attended by many political and social activists, proceedings started with some attendees dancing and singing,“ My spirit says: Zuma must go!” in Xhosa.

Recognising the necessity of impartiality by Speaker Mbete, the debate offered a rationalistic approach to the issue of secrecy in voting. Representing the argument against the secret ballot was renowned political scientist Professor Steven Friedman, while UDM leader Bantu Holomisa and estranged ANC MP Makhosi Khoza argued for it.

“The secret ballot is a bad idea because it takes away the right to hold those elected accountable for their decisions,” Friedman said.

The analogy used by Friedman was that of a famous Shakespearian play displaying King Henry VIII as a man steeped in luxury, wives and forever going against the constitution. A government official, named Thomas More, wanted to remove the king, using the law. The officials’ son-in-law advised that the importance of removing the king goes far beyond the use of the law.

More responded by saying, “Will you strike down the law in chasing the devil, and when the devil turns on you, there are no laws to protect you?”

Friedman was outlining the importance of transparency in decision-making by MP’s, and that by voting in secret MPs are removing that important democratic principle, by raising the question in the future that all votes should be made anonymously.

Another point brought up by Friedman was the risk of more corruption if votes took place in secret.

“State capture is to buy politicians. A secret ballot makes it easier to buy politicians, because no one will know who was bought.”

Holomisa said that the request for a secret ballot was “to accommodate free movement for MPs to follow their conscience.”

The reason for this was given by Khoza who argued that the intimidation of MP’s by the Guptas and Zumas is real, “having personally experienced death threats myself, and attacks against my daughter.”

Khoza has been criticised by members of her party for speaking out against the blight of corruption and state capture. At the debate, she spoke of her shock after ANC chief whip‚ Jackson Mthembu slammed her “extreme indiscipline”. The rogue politician said she has opened two cases with the police and reported the matter to the Speaker of Parliament, but was not offered any protection.

Friedman said that it is the mandate of the police to protect MP’s, but Holomisa responded by saying that what Friedman was calling for is “not practical.”

With renewed vigour in the opposition to the president, despite the disagreements about the secret ballot, one thing is for sure, South Africa is well-aware of the need for change. VOC

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