There can be little doubt that the moves by the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and subsequently the Economic Freedom Fighters to bring a secret ballot into force for the looming vote of no confidence on Jacob Zuma’s presidency is fraught with some prickly dilemmas.
In what is supposed to be an open democracy, it would be expected that the time-honoured open vote system be employed to regulate the two-thirds majority required in a debate of this magnitude. Certainly, the proponents of transparency in parliamentary workings would find some resonance in this being the method adopted.
But the counter argument is that – once again with reference to the serious nature of what hangs in the balance – coercion is likely to play an important part, especially among an ANC back bench renowned for slavishly following the route laid out by the party regardless of the consequences.
A secret ballot would effectively remove any threat of sanctions, such as sudden redeployment of ANC MPs by the party. Fairly basic arithmetic would indicate that it would take in the vicinity of 65 of the seats of the 249 held by the ruling party in Parliament to vote against the president staying in office for Zuma to continue.
It is unlikely that in an open vote the ANC dissidents would stand up and be counted, not if they want to continue drawing the R1 033 438 prescribed as the minimal annual salary for a member of the National Assembly.
This puts the speaker of the house, Baleka Mbete, directly into the debate as one of her more important prerogatives is to ensure the interests of MPs are protected, something we would argue is at risk should there be massive redeployments from parliament.
It’s a ticklish one for the courts to rule on.