Let­ting the ge­nie out of the bot­tle

A se­cret bal­lot is not in the in­ter­ests of the pub­lic, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

IT IS not with­out sig­nif­i­cance that nei­ther the con­sti­tu­tion nor the rules of the Na­tional Assem­bly pro­vide for a vote of no con­fi­dence against a sit­ting head of state to be con­ducted by se­cret bal­lot.

Con­sid­er­ing that any mem­ber of the Na­tional Assem­bly has the right to re­quest for such a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence to be de­bated and voted for, it is clear that this was no over­sight.

In not be­ing pre­scrip­tive, the drafters of our con­sti­tu­tion had due re­gard to two main fac­tors: firstly, the prin­ci­ple of sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers; and sec­ondly, the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of con­duct­ing a vote on such an ex­treme form of cen­sure un­der the veil of se­crecy.

Is such a move in the in­ter­ests of the pub­lic, or to serve short-sighted po­lit­i­cal ends? Per­haps there has not been proper con­sid­er­a­tion of the con­se­quences for our democ­racy of let­ting this ge­nie out of the bot­tle.

To­day it may be used for the re­moval of pub­lic of­fi­cials elected by the peo­ple. To­mor­row it may be to pass un­savoury mo­tions un­der the cloak of dark­ness, or to pave the way for the ne­far­i­ous sys­tem of cheque­book pol­i­tics, where the votes of MPs can be bought and sold.

It is daunt­ing to con­sider the re­sult­ing paral­y­sis that would en­sue as ev­ery se­cret bal­lot would end up in the courts.

It is para­dox­i­cal that those push­ing for a se­cret bal­lot hold them­selves up as ad­vo­cates of a more open sys­tem of gov­er­nance. In push­ing for this mo­tion, they are ad­vo­cat­ing for the busi­ness of Par­lia­ment to be con­ducted away from the eyes of the pub­lic. This is a slip­pery slope to­wards closed gov­ern­ment and should be re­sisted, not least by the courts.

Per­sons elected to Par­lia­ment are there at the be­hest of the con­stituen­cies they serve and we should not al­low a sit­u­a­tion to pre­vail where MPs op­er­ate in se­cret.

It is prob­lem­atic that the op­po­si­tion par­ties in­volved in the court action are cloak­ing their shrewd po­lit­i­cal move in the lan­guage of benev­o­lent con­cern for ANC MPs who need “pro­tec­tion” from their own party. The in­fer­ence is made that there is some­thing wrong with MPs vot­ing along party lines.

South Africa is a mul­ti­party democ­racy. We don’t vote for in­di­vid­u­als but for par­ties and MPs are not “free agents” who can cherry-pick party de­ci­sions. They owe their po­si­tion to be­ing called to serve their par­ties and the ANC says MPs will not sup­port this mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in the pres­i­dent.

In­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal the­o­rists like John Stuart Mill have held that vot­ing in se­cret should be an ex­cep­tion rather than a rule and that leg­is­la­tors are car­ry­ing out a pub­lic duty, not act­ing in their own per­sonal in­ter­ests.

The ANC has been voted into power in all the suc­ces­sive elec­tions since democ­racy be­cause the peo­ple of this coun­try see it as the only party ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing on its elec­toral man­date to re­alise a bet­ter life for all.

It fol­lows then that those called upon to serve the ANC and their coun­try in Par­lia­ment should re­spect the de­ci­sions of the party that put them there.

Then there is the craven op­por­tunism and hypocrisy of call­ing on ANC MPs to ex­er­cise their “con­science” – a lux­ury they deny their own pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Par­lia­ment.

The DA’s con­sti­tu­tion is clear: a mem­ber ceases to be a mem­ber of the party when he or she, be­ing a pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the party in a leg­isla­tive body, in any meeting of that leg­isla­tive body, votes in a man­ner other than in ac­cor­dance with a party cau­cus de­ci­sion which is con­sis­tent with party pol­icy, in that leg­isla­tive body, or be­ing a sin­gle pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tive in a cau­cus votes in a man­ner in­con­sis­tent with the in­struc­tions of higher party struc­tures or party pol­icy “save in the case where the party al­lows a free vote on the is­sue be­ing voted on, or the cau­cus has given per­mis­sion for that mem­ber to vote in a par­tic­u­lar man­ner”.

For all its talk of free po­lit­i­cal agency, the EFF’s track record on deal­ing with dis­sent within its ranks is well-es­tab­lished. Its con­sti­tu­tion notes that the mi­nor­ity is sub­or­di­nate to the ma­jor­ity, that the lower level is sub­or­di­nate “to the higher level” and that “the de­ci­sions of the up­per struc­tures are bind­ing on the lower struc­tures”.

The EFF should also in the in­ter­ests of trans­parency, make its code of con­duct for party mem­bers pub­lic, es­pe­cially the parts about the con­se­quences for break­ing party ranks in vot­ing.

Clearly then, what is good for the goose is not good for the gan­der.

They want the ANC to be civil democrats (which it is) whereas they are Stal­in­ists them­selves.

It is re­gret­table that po­lit­i­cal par­ties con­tinue to abuse this cru­cial con­sti­tu­tion en­ti­tle­ment aimed at safe­guard­ing our democ­racy, to score po­lit­i­cal points. It points to an in­creas­ing des­per­a­tion and lack of rigour to deal ma­turely with the cut and thrust of be­ing in a mod­ern po­lit­i­cal state.

Hav­ing failed in these end­less bids, they are now try­ing to en­list the ser­vices of the ju­di­ciary as their po­lit­i­cal hatchet men and women; hope­fully the Bench will see through this ob­vi­ous ruse.

That MPs should spend pre­cious hours de­bat­ing end­less mo­tions of no con­fi­dence that never suc­ceed, in­stead of deal­ing with the real busi­ness of Par­lia­ment, is a dis­trac­tion.

This ap­pli­ca­tion to have a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence passed in se­cret is an at­tempt to jus­tify un­der­handed be­hav­iour by MPs. Worse still, the courts are be­ing asked to en­dorse this du­plic­ity. Molewa is a mem­ber of the na­tional work­ing com­mit­tee and na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the ANC.

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