12 April 2017

South Africa: The Secret Ballot Conundrum

Photo: Stefan Schäfer/Wikipedia
Constitutional Court of South Africa (file photo).

The United Democratic Movement has approached the Constitutional Court for a ruling that a no confidence vote in President Zuma should be conducted by way of a secret ballot. Comparing the German and South African parliamentary systems and rules is instructive.

Section 86(2) of the Constitution determines that parliament elects the president by majority vote in a secret ballot. This provision is similar to article 63 of the German Constitution: the federal parliament also elects the chancellor by majority vote in a secret ballot.

The rationale behind this provision is that the government derives its legitimacy solely from the parliament that elects the head of government. The South African president, like his German counterpart, is elected by all the members of parliament. He or she does not only represent the strongest party in parliament as leader of the government but the Assembly as elected representatives of people.

Section 86(1) determines that the members of the Assembly elect "a woman or a man from among its members to be the President". This signals that the election is based on the principle of collegiality. The secret ballot therefore also serves the purpose that there should not be any ill feelings when certain...

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