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What if Zuma refuses to step down?

If more than 50% in the National Assembly support a vote of no confidence “the president and the entire cabinet must resign”, explains constitutional law analyst Professor Pierre de Vos.

NASTASSIA ARENDSE:  The NEC of the African National Congress decided yesterday that President Jacob Zuma should resign. At the time of writing there was no clarity as to whether President Zuma would heed the request by the NEC.

I spoke to Professor Pierre de Vos, who is a constitutional law analyst at UCT, about what happens going forward if he refuses to go.

PIERRE DE VOS:  Of course there is no such thing as a “recall” because the president is elected by the National Assembly. The National Assembly can vote him out of office. The NEC cannot do that.

So what they really did, they asked him to resign. If he refuses to resign, if he refuses to acquiesce to their request, then the National Assembly can institute a vote of no confidence in him. There is already a vote of no confidence requested by the EFF before parliament, so that will be the motion that will have to be tabled.

I hear now that the speaker has brought it forward for tomorrow, for Thursday, and on Thursday there will then be a vote in the National Assembly. If 50% of the members of the National Assembly support it, then the president is removed from office.

NASTASSIA ARENDSE:  Take us through what happens in a motion of no confidence. What would institute it, and what would a president have to do?

PIERRE DE VOS:  The thing is, the motion of no confidence is what happens when the president stops enjoying – or there is a suspicion that the president stops enjoying – the support of the majority of the members of the National Assembly. So it’s a political question.

Anybody in the National Assembly can table such a motion. The speaker must then schedule it for discussion, and it could be for any reason. A person could go and table a motion of no confidence in the president because they don’t like the colour of the president, to use an absurd example. It’s a political question. Do we like him, don’t we like him?

Then there is a vote. Once it is tabled, there will be of course a sitting where there will be arguments made – should we support it or not? Once the debate is over, there will be a vote. If the vote is completed and it is carried, if more than 50% support it, then the president and the entire cabinet must resign.

Once they resign of course there will be no president or acting president. And for that time until a new president is elected, which could be within a few hours, within a day, but no later than 30 days later, the speaker during that time will be acting as the president.

NASTASSIA ARENDSE:  There’s this thing which I think is bizarre – where the ANC will say: “We don’t want to support the opposition’s motion of no confidence, we’d rather institute our own.” Do you think there is a possibility that they can all come together beyond party lines and say, “Well, we’ll do this thing.”

PIERRE DE VOS:  Well, I don’t know the politics of this, and I don’t understand how politicians think. But it is possible, and I now think that that might actually happen. Yes, the EFF motion is the one that was tabled, so that is the one that will be discussed. But in terms of the rules of parliament, the ANC can amend that motion and change the reasons given in that motion for the removal – and they have the majority. So they can then amend the motion and pretend it’s their motion, really [chuckling]. That’s probably what will happen tomorrow if the president doesn’t resign before then.

NASTASSIA ARENDSE:  You mention in your explanation to that, and I quote here: “If the National Assembly passes a motion of no confidence in President Zuma and his cabinet, the president and the entire cabinet must resign,” and they have no choice in the matter. A refusal to resign would result in what you describe as a full-blown constitutional crisis. Talk to me about that.

PIERRE DE VOS:  We know that the president is elected by the National Assembly. He can be removed by the National Assembly through the vote of no confidence. He doesn’t have a choice in the matter. So when there is a vote of no confidence and it passes, he must resign. If he doesn’t resign it means he is hanging on to power in an unlawful and unconstitutional way. It’s like a power grab. It’s like pretending to have been elected president when you lost an election. It’s like a coup d’état or sedition or whatever you like to call these loaded terms. So it’s unthinkable because it would mean that the president is unconstitutionally try to cling on to power.



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