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South Africa's Jacob Zuma faces vote of no-confidence in secret ballot

South African lawmakers will use a secret ballot in Tuesday's no-confidence vote against President Jacob Zuma. The secret ballot could embolden members of Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) who have their doubts.

The speaker for South Africa's parliament, Baleka Mbete, announced on Monday that a motion of no-confidence against President Jacob Zuma, scheduled for Tuesday, will be held through a secret ballot.

"I... determine that voting on the motion of no confidence in the president on the 8th of August 2017 will be by secret ballot," Mbete said, in a surprise announcement to the press. Mbete, who is also the national chairwoman for the ruling African National Congress (ANC), said her decision was "to ensure the outcome of this very important vote is credible."

Read more: South Africa's ruling ANC in crisis

The secret ballot will allow lawmakers in Zuma's deeply divided ANC to vote against him without fear of reprisals. Zuma, who has been implicated in multiple corruption scandals, has survived seven no-confidence votes since coming to power in 2009. All those, however, were held in open ballots.

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"No member can suffer any harm, hardship or punitive action" if they vote "according to their conscience," Mbete said.

The motion, originally tabled by the opposition Democratic Alliance back in April, needs 201 out of 400 possible votes to succeed. Should it, Zuma and his entire cabinet would be forced to step down.

Zuma's ANC judgement day

Zuma remains a divisive figure among the ANC faithful and the public. Aside from being dogged by corruption scandals, South Africa has also fallen into deep recession and seen record levels of unemployment under his presidency.

Then, in March, a cabinet reshuffle saw respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan replaced with a Zuma loyalist, a move that caused the value of the national currency the rand to tumble and the country's credit rating to be downgraded to non-investment grade or "junk" status.

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A prominent group of ANC veterans from the anti-Apartheid struggle have called on lawmakers to vote in favor of ousting Zuma in Tuesday's vote. In a statement released shortly before Mbete's announcement, the group said that South Africa had become "witness to larceny on a grand scale, leaving the country not only impoverished, but also increasingly in the hands of criminalized and compromised governance."

"The motion of no-confidence in President Jacob Zuma is an inevitable outcome of the myriad scandals in which he has regrettably embroiled himself and his office," they said.

Read more: South Africa's ANC 'must end corruption' to win back voters

However, the party itself has said it expects members to back the embattled president. ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu warned last week that ousting Zuma would "have disastrous consequences that can only have a negative impact on the people of South Africa."

No pressure on ANC to oust Zuma

Despite the criticism, Zuma maintains a good chance of surviving Tuesday's no-confidence vote, having promised to step down as head of the ANC in December and as president before the next general election in 2019. Zuma's promise to step down may reduce any pressure on the party to seek an immediate replacement.

Read more: Opinion: Zuma on his last political mile

"It's a surprising but strategic move," independent analyst Judith February told the Agence France Presse news agency. "Zuma is likely to remain even if a few MPs vote against him. The decision takes the wind out of the sails of opposition as well as civil society marches and activism around this issue."

dm/se (Reuters, AFP)

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