South Africa: No confidence vote looming?

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa is attempting to get President Jacob Zuma to resign. Media coverage of this (such as a BBC story from 5 Feb.) too often implies that this is a “normal” presidency with a fixed term. However, despite the title, as far as executive survival in office is concerned, South Africa’s head of government is a prime minister. He can be removed by a vote of no confidence.

See the Constitution of South Africa, Article 102(2):

If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the President, the President and the other members of the Cabinet and any Deputy Ministers must resign.

It could hardly be more clear than that. So if the ANC (which has far more than a majority of assembly seas) wants Zuma out, there’s no question how this will end. Zuma may have his own reasons to want to make the party go through the spectacle of a no-confidence vote, rather than step down “voluntarily”, but he does indeed serve at their pleasure.

It is also not as if is unusual in parliamentary systems for parties to replace their leader and the prime minister before an election. In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, David Samuels and I show that roughly a third of PMs in parliamentary democracies lose office by an intra-party procedure (rather than by losing a general election or leading a coalition that collapses). We did not note the timing of such removals relative to elections, but there is little doubt that many of the party-initiated removals take place closer to the next election than the preceding one. (In most such systems, the election can be called early on initiative of the new PM. The South African constitution also has a provision for early election, at the initiative of the assembly majority itself–Art. 50.)

Already this past December the ANC’s convention narrowly voted to elect Cyril Ramaphosa as head of the party (over Zuma’s ex-wife). He will lead the party in the campaign for the general election of 2019, whether or not Zuma is still president at the time.

A key difference in South Africa, compared to most other parliamentary systems, is that the prime minister is also the head of state–hence the title, President. In fact, other constitutional provisions in South Africa seem lifted from an actual presidential system (i.e., one in which the head of government is popularly elected for a fixed term). For instance, Article 89 has a provision for impeachment:

  1. The National Assembly, by a resolution adopted with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members, may remove the President from office only on the grounds of ­

a. a serious violation of the Constitution or the law;

b. serious misconduct; or

c. inability to perform the functions of office.

It is hard to imagine what this is doing in a parliamentary constitution! If, like most parliamentary republics, the head of state (“President”) and the head of government (“Prime Minister”) were separate persons, the presence of both provisions quoted here would make sense. But what purpose does an impeachment clause, requiring a super majority, have in a constitution that lets the assembly remove the combined president/PM by a much simpler procedure?

The pressure is ramping up, the State of the Nation speech has been postponed, and the rumors are running rampant ahead of a special meeting of the NEC. The party leadership body could “recall” him in a manner similar to how Thabo Mbeki’s term ended early in 2008. However, that is a party procedure with no legal standing and thus would not be binding on the President.

Will he resign, or will the ANC need to invoke Art. 102?

 

How unusual is South Africa?

[Update: I added in a comment a list of cases with streaks of four or more elections with largest party having over half the vote.]

Given the news that a proposed merger of two opposition parties in South Africa was called off, I was wondering just how unusual is South Africa in having had a string of elections in which one party won a substantial majority of the vote.

Querying a dataset of over 1000 elections in countries that can be considered democracies (including many developing countries and young democratic regimes), the answer is: quite unusual.

The mean vote share of the largest party in these 1,148 elections is .42. In South Africa’s four democratic elections to date, the ANC has averaged .64. Such a high figure is just beyond the 95th percentile (.63) of the worldwide distribution.

Of course, the failure of opposition parties to offer a clear alternative does not help the cause of “normalizing” South Africa relative to other democracies. On the other hand, the extreme PR system also is an impediment. While normally, the more extreme the PR, the less likely is a party with over half the votes, if your starting point is a hegemonic party, then extreme PR presumably inhibits the development of an opposition that could challenge the leader. That is, numerous very small parties can all win their share without unifying, and the benefits from unifying are less clear for parties than they would be in a country with either a less proportional system or direct presidential elections (or both).

Speaking of direct presidential elections, the distribution of the worldwide data does not change much if we focus only on parliamentary systems, although there is small (and totally insignificant) tendency for bigger shares for the largest party under presidential systems (mean .43, although 95th percentile .61).

South Africa electoral lists

This year is election year in South Africa, and the ruling ANC has set up an “integrity committee” to scrutinize the candidate lists with the goal of eliminating corrupt candidates.

IOL News quotes Malusi Gigaba, identified as the party’s “election head”:

The list conference has the final say and the integrity committee could actually recommend that some candidates could be pulled off the list for this and that valid reason.

Business Day Live offers its list of seven members it says should be purged, and claims that in the past the party has either “redeployed” to other positions those MPs who pled guilty to corruption charges, or even renominated them to Parliament. It argues that the electoral system is at the root of the problem:

South Africa does not have a constituency-based electoral system, so none of these people ever had to answer to the actual people who elected them to office. Instead, those people were forced to rely on the ANC, which draws up the lists, to take into account their concerns. That never happened in 2009. In 2014, the party has another chance to show how seriously it takes the public. At the forefront of that battle will be its integrity committee.

South Africa uses closed-list PR, with MPs elected from nine basic districts whose magnitudes range from 5 to 47 (mean 22.2), plus a 200-seat nationwide district for which there is a separate list. With the ANC dominant (just under 66% of the votes in 2009), it has some very long lists of candidates whom it can assure election through the ranking process.

The compiling of lists begins at a conference on 3 February.

of favourite sons and distant cousins

Next year South Africa faces a general election.

The absolute certainties are that the ANC will win a (probably reduced) majority in the national assembly and the opposition Democratic Alliance will win a majority in the Western Cape provincial legislature. After that, all bets are off.

Before 1994 South Africa was divided into the four provinces of The Cape, Transvaal, Natal and the Orange Free State. There were also a large number of bantustans. Both the old provinces and the bantustans  were abolished by the 1994 interim constitution and a new system of nine provinces was set up. In the time since the provincial boundaries have become set in stone. The ANC has always controlled all the provincial legislatures except KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. It looks like Gauteng, the province formerly known as Johannesberg, will be in play next year for the first time.

And then the story gets interesting. There is some talk of the DA running their strongest possible candidate, Hellen Zille, their national leader, a former mayor of Cape Town, former World Mayor of the Year,  and the current premier of the Western Cape. If the DA took Gauteng, or even gave the ANC a run for their money there, it would be a political earthquake. The earthquake would be magnified by Zille’s ethnicity. She is a very white former anti-apartheid journo who would be running in a very black province.

Interstate politician transfers are very rare in Australia, although one is being attempted at the next federal election. And Australian and American political observers would become mildly hysterical over the premier of one province running for premier of another province.

One list per party, please

With municipal elections in South Africa set for 18 May, Terry Tselane, commissioner of the Independent Electoral Commission, is appealing to parties to make sure they each submit only one list.

An excerpt, from The New Age:

“We know that political parties have issues of tension about who is actually a leader of that political party. It will have implications in terms of how we run our processes. It is on that basis that we are saying that political parties must submit the list of those people that will be authorised. We are trying to avoid a situation where in the morning you receive a list from political parties from one specific leadership and later on another one comes and says the person who submitted the list is not authorised,” he added.

Asked how they would resolve a situation like that in Cope, where there were two factions each claiming to be in charge Tselane responded: “We are operating on the basis of information submitted to us before the (2009) elections. Until such time that there are changes we will continue to operate on the basis of information they submitted to us.”