Columns 18.5.2017 06:14 am

Opposition parties need JZ to stick around

President Jacob Zuma is seen outside the Rietgat Police Station where he briefly addressed media, 28 February 2017, Soshanguve, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

President Jacob Zuma is seen outside the Rietgat Police Station where he briefly addressed media, 28 February 2017, Soshanguve, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

For any form of coalition government to have a chance of ousting the ANC in 2019, Zuma needs to remain in the hot seat.

The Constitutional Court is expected to rule shortly on the application to allow MPs to vote in a secret ballot on a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma. But even if it succeeds, it is unlikely to translate into practice.

Should the application be successful, it is unlikely to do anything but reaffirm that the discretion to allow a secret ballot lies with National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete.

It is hardly a giant leap of logic to predict which way she’ll move, given her history of vociferously protecting the president. Herein lies the rub.

Considering that Mbete is unlikely to allow a secret ballot, the application – launched by the United Democratic Movement and supported by various other opposition parties, including the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters – is nothing more than a calculated risk.

A safe bet that Zuma is not going anywhere soon – at least not until 2019. And that’s just how they want it.

Despite the showmanship, politicking and grandstanding by the political organisations seemingly hellbent on having Zuma removed, they really don’t want him to go – for now.

For any form of coalition government to have a chance of ousting the ANC in 2019, Zuma needs to remain in the hot seat and continue embodying everything that is wrong with the ruling party and its leadership.

As long as Zuma remains president of the ANC and the country, he and his faction can be reviled and demonised, thereby ensuring the ANC’s grip on power is substantially weakened by the time the 2019 elections come around.

In other words, Zuma is the biggest campaign ticket for the opposition and they have nothing to gain if he is pushed out now.

It would become a completely different ball game for the opposition if Zuma were removed through the upcoming motion of no confidence, or recalled at the ANC’s elective conference at the end of the year.

Should this happen and if he were replaced by someone like Cyril Ramaphosa, it would give the ANC an opportunity to reset and say to its constituents: “We’ve listened to you, we’ve removed Zuma and we promise to do better from now on. Give us another chance.”

This would likely see a reinvigorated ANC contesting the 2019 elections, with a real shot of wooing back voters who stayed away from polls in 2016.

So, ironically, the opposition needs Zuma to stay, while the ANC needs him to go.

However, the ANC finds itself in a lose-lose situation.

The longer Zuma stays, the more damage he will inflict, but his removal is likely to tear apart the factionalised ANC – a point made by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe amid calls from the opposition for Zuma to step down a year ago. Not an easy one to solve.

However, rest assured that the noise surrounding the secret ballot and no-confidence motion is nothing but that – just noise that keeps Zuma in the spotlight.

Even if the motion of no confidence fails to remove Zuma – as it is bound to – it will simply serve to entrench the notion of an arrogant president who is refusing to go and a self-serving party that will protect a seemingly corrupt leader at all costs.

Those who are shouting loudest for the motion of no confidence to succeed want it the least.

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