3 December 2007

South Africa: Opposition Parties Will Oppose Anti-Mbeki Vote

Johannesburg — OPPOSITION parties warned yesterday that should either Thabo Mbeki or Jacob Zuma factions consider dissolving Parliament to resolve the race for the presidency of the country they would face stiff resistance in the National Assembly, cautioning that SA's constitution was not for sale at the convenience of the African National Congress (ANC).

Weekend reports suggested there was a plot in the Zuma camp to oust Mbeki with a vote of no confidence and get their man into Tuynhuys before the scheduled 2009 election should Zuma win the ANC presidency in Polokwane this month.

Mbeki indicated in an interview that there might be circumstances after the ANC's national conference under which an early election could be considered.

But regardless of which faction tries to engineer an end to the current term of Parliament, they would have to consider the opposition before trying. The opposition's primary concern is for the stability of the country and going for an early election would be interpreted internationally as an indication of instability.

The constitution places the power to dissolve Parliament with the members of the National Assembly. A simple majority of all sitting members, that is 201 votes, would be needed in order to dissolve and hold early elections. The ANC has 293 seats in the National Assembly and, assuming that it is split between the Mbeki and Zuma camps, either a Zuma- led no-confidence vote or an Mbeki-led dissolution of Parliament could not succeed without opposition support.

Sitting ANC MPs, who would have to vote in numbers to dissolve Parliament, might not be keen on the idea as their primary concern would be to gain electable positions on the party's list for the scheduled 2009 election. The new lists will be compiled after list conferences late next year. It is not clear whether the election would be held according to the 2004 lists or whether there would time for new lists to be compiled.

Democratic Alliance (DA) chairman James Selfe said that while he could not anticipate any decision which the DA parliamentary caucus might take, he said that the "default" was that Parliament served for five years, and not for less in order to be convenient to the ANC. "The DA would take the view that the constitution is not up for sale."

Independent Democrats (ID) leader Patricia de Lille said that the opposition should not allow the ANC to interfere with the democratic process and "the ID will vote against any attempt to dissolve Parliament and against any motion of no confidence in Mbeki".

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said it appeared as if some "hotheads" in the Zuma camp were sketching scenarios that were most unlikely to happen. Mulder, who recently met Zuma, said that after that meeting his impression was that unity in the ANC would be the dominant issue and the instability that would result from taking the presidential struggle into Parliament. He said the FF+ would make its decision if the time came on the basis of what was in the national interest.

Analysts warn that if Mbeki loses his post as head of the ANC, and there is an early election, it may initially spook markets. "I don't think markets will be happy with an early election. It's more than a changing of the guard. An early election would probably be interpreted to mean that there is an alternative policy agenda," Investment Solutions economist Chris Hart said yesterday.

"The policies we have now are based on sustainability and balance between the need to grow the economy and alleviate poverty in a sustainable fashion. If we move away from that discipline it will put a strain on the economy."

Over the past few weeks Zuma has gone out of his way to reassure the financial and business community of his intention to maintain economic policy if he is elected leader of the country.

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