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Hussein Solomon: Vote of No Confidence Signifies New Maturity in Political Opposition

Against All OddsHussein Solomon, author of Against All Odds: Opposition Political Parties in Southern Africa, says the ANC’s misguided appointment of National Chairperson Baleka Mbete as the new Speaker of Parliament earlier this year prompted a new maturity in opposition parties.

Solomon says “eyebrows were raised” at the appointment, as the Speaker is expected to stand above party politics and therefore does not usually come from the leadership of the ruling party. He says Mbete’s attempts to “shield the executive from criticism” proved to the opposition that “what was at stake was nothing less than the future of South Africa’s constitutional democracy”, leading to a vote of no-confidence in the Speaker.

At the time of her appointment, then, speculation was rife amongst analysts that the reason for her deployment to Parliament had a lot to do with the perception amongst ANC leaders that she must go to Parliament to stifle dissent amongst ANC back-benchers and to muzzle the opposition. Indeed, the ANC had a torrid time in the previous National Assembly when cabinet ministers were taken to task by members of the political opposition and shown wanting. Meanwhile, ANC back-benchers walked out on key votes threatening the ANC’s majority. Ms. Mbete’s second tenure as Speaker proved pundits right. She has attempted to shield the executive from criticism whilst stifling debate on crucial questions. At the same time, she proved to have a rather thin skin when faced with probing questions regarding her own conduct. This is an unfortunate character trait in a Speaker of Parliament. At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that the street brawl tactics of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) merely added fuel to the fire.

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