You got the president you deserve

There are two ways to legally remove from office a sitting president.

The most obvious – and most frequently attempted by the opposition – is a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly.

Such a motion has never succeeded, be-cause the ANC has a sufficiently large majority to ensure that each time it comes before Parliament it is defeated.

Whenever a motion of no confidence is debated in Parliament, the opposition asks for a secret ballot, and each time the request is defeated. The notion is that, were ANC MPs able to vote according to their conscience in secret, some of them may well support such a motion of no confidence, particularly after Jacob Zuma threw the entire ANC caucus under a bus after it supported the view that he does not have to #PayBackTheMoney.

The other means, is in terms of Article 89 of our Constitution, which reads:

(1) The National Assembly, by a resolution adopted with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members, may remove the President from office only on the grounds of –

(a) a serious violation of the Constitution or the law;

(b) serious misconduct; or

(c) inability to perform the functions of office.

(2) Anyone who has been removed from the office of President in terms of subsection (1) (a) or (b) may not receive any benefits of that office, and may not serve in any public office.

This amounts to impeachment, and although it has never gone this far, it requires a two-third majority vote in the National Assembly, so even if the Constitutional Court does find that Jacob Zuma either broke the law, or violated the Constitution over the Nkandla matter, invoking Article 89 has little or no chance of success.

Even if such votes were by secret ballot, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that certain caucus members sided with the opposition and not with the party line, and that is where the problem lies.

In our proportional representation (PR) system, a political party is allocated seats in a legislature, based on the number of votes it wins in proportion to the total number of votes cast in any election.

These seats are then doled out by party bosses. This applies at local, provincial and national government level.

You are placed on a list by your party apparatchiks, and your position on that list, determines whether or not you get to sit as a lawmaker, at any tier of government.

Your removal requires no explanation or statutory procedure. All it takes is a party decision, for reasons that may remain entirely confidential, and you‘re removed from office, and re-placed with the next name on the list.

This then is the other side of the PR system of government sword, that was ardently pursued during Codesa I and II, by the remnants of white apartheid politics, because it was seen as the only way to ensure that minorities – read whites – had some representation in our new democracy.

That political parties have far more control over how their lawmakers vote on issues, because they owe allegiance to party bosses rather than the electorate, means that a caucus member voting against the party line on any issue, has no place to hide. If your job as an elected official was at the whim of party bosses, how would you be inclined to vote on any given issue?

(At a slight tangent, the PR system is the reason we have so many tiny and largely inconsequential parties with one or two seats in the National Assembly. In a Westminster style first past the post system, in which voters cast their ballots for an individual in a constituency or ward, these parties would simply not exist.)

A parliamentary task team reviewing the rules of Parliament has asked the state law advisor to investigate the procedures to be followed were Article 89 invoked.

The task team feels that such a process is highly technical in nature, and as yet untested in law, which would make it difficult for parliamentarians to adequately deal with the matter fairly and properly.

This interest is obviously prompted by the upcoming Constitutional Court ruling on the Nkandla matter, brought before the court by the DA and the EFF (talk about politics and strange bedfellows), which may well find that Jacob Zuma abrogated the Constitution or broke his oath of office.

Such a finding may well lead to impeachment proceedings, but unless those disgruntled ANC caucus members who, it is rumoured, no longer support Jacob Zuma, are prepared to vote their anger and their conscience at the risk of losing their jobs, nothing will change.

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