Baleka Mbete. Picture: GCIS/SIYABULELA DUDA
Baleka Mbete. Picture: GCIS/SIYABULELA DUDA

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete is opting to keep all spectators waiting, regarding pressing questions MPs have about the upcoming vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

This comes as opposition parties in Parliament are upping the pressure on the speaker to make an announcement on whether the vote of no confidence will take place by secret or open ballot.

Opposition parties made the submissions to the office of the speaker by Friday, and released a joint statement in which they suggested that Mbete could not preside over the vote of confidence objectively as an ANC top six official and hopeful successor of Zuma in the party’s December conference.

In June, the Constitutional Court reaffirmed the speaker’s powers to decide whether a vote ought to take place under the rules of a secret or open ballot. Opposition MPs and some ANC MPs believe a secret ballot will give ANC MPs the freedom to "vote with their conscience, free of intimidation".

Asked whether Mbete would recuse herself from presiding over the vote of no confidence, Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the speaker received the requests but urged opposition MPs to respect her capacity as the speaker.

"It must be stressed that the speaker is constitutionally elected by the House and she’s under an obligation to discharge her functions as mandated by the House. In this context, only the House has the authority to make such a determination," said Moloto.

Moloto said that it was not necessary for opposition MPs to rush the speaker into making a conclusive decision on whether the vote of no confidence should take place under secret ballot or open ballot and that Mbete "will make her decision after considering whole range of factors and respond to parties before August 8".

"The Constitutional Court was clear that the speaker must thoroughly apply her mind and consider a host of factors to ensure that her decision is rational and enables Parliament to advance Constitutional oversight and democracy," he said.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said in a statement that the largest opposition party in Parliament would give Mbete until this Friday to announce whether the vote of no confidence would take place under secret ballot or open ballot.

"Mbete rarely concerns herself with the views of other political parties, or even contrarian views within the ANC. It is disingenuous for her to pretend to care now that she’s been singled out for not doing her job.

"She cannot shift her responsibility. She, and she alone, must make the decision and it must be rational," said Steenhuisen.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa — who went to the Constitutional Court seeking clarity on whether the speaker had the power to effect a secret ballot vote in the House — said her presidential ambitions within ANC could compromise her ability to preside over the vote objectively.

"Making matters worse is your recent attack on the judiciary. You have said that certain judges are biased against your party. Your action undermines your duty to act as liaison between Parliament, as an institution, and the other arms of state.

"It means that you still fail to separate your role as the head of the National Assembly and that of ANC chairperson. All of the aforementioned demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are patently biased and therefore conflicted and compromised," said Holomisa.

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