SA braces for high-stakes election of President and Speaker

South Africa is on tenterhooks as negotiations continue, with Parliament expected to sit on Friday to elect the new President and Speaker, leaving citizens and the region bracing for a high-stakes showdown.

The African National Congress (ANC), which polled 40.2 percent in the May 29, 2024 election, cannot form a government by itself. The ANC has reportedly met with the Democratic Alliance (DA) (21.8 percent), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) (9.5 percent), the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) (3.9 percent), and the Umkhonto WeSizwe (MK) party (14.5 percent), among others.

Adding to the pressure of forming a government, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced that the first sitting of the National Assembly will be held on June 14, 2024, at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

“The Secretary to Parliament has received formal correspondence in this regard and will henceforth make the necessary arrangements for the first sitting of the National Assembly to take place in accordance with the determination made by the Chief Justice,” said Zondo in a statement.

However, the MK party, led by former South African president Jacob Zuma, announced plans to stop the National Assembly’s sitting, arguing that without its 58 MPs, the House cannot be constituted.

“We argue that unresolved objections and the veracity of the substance by the MK Party and other political parties who represent the will of the people render this ‘market-based’ declaration, and consequently the sitting and all its activities unconstitutional,” MK said in a statement released on Monday.

“Furthermore, in defence of our people’s constitutional rights, the MK Party will file papers with the Constitutional Court to interdict the swearing-in of party-nominated candidates as members of the NA until our grievances, premised on allegations of election fraud and rigging, are thoroughly addressed by the courts.”

However, Parliament stated that preparations for the first sitting of the National Assembly on Friday are going ahead, asserting that MK’s interpretation of Section 46 of South Africa’s Constitution is incorrect.

Reports say the MK party has misinterpreted Section 46 of the Constitution, which sets the number of MPs at between 350 to 400, while legislation has confirmed the number at 400.

As outlined in Section 53 of South Africa’s Constitution and Parliamentary Rule 96, a quorum is essential for MPs to do their work, where “at least one-third of the members must be present” before a vote on any other question than legislation.

Reports say decisions on laws require the presence of 201 of the 400 MPs, and a quorum requirement for electing a President — which is not a vote on legislation — requires 133 MPs in the House.

This may mean the ANC, with its 159 MPs, could elect a President by a majority of members present.

Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo also said, according to Section 49(3) of South Africa’s Constitution, “unless and until the results of the election are set aside by a court, Parliament must ensure that the sittings proceed as directed.”

“Because the first sittings of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces will take place physically, the Parliamentary Administration is in the process of making arrangements to provide travel and accommodation for all members listed by the IEC, as handed over by the Chief Justice, to attend these sittings and the associated onboarding activities scheduled in Cape Town,” Mothapo said.

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