The Cable

South African President Survives Sixth No-Confidence Vote

The opposition comes as close as it ever has to removing Jacob Zuma from office.

Parliamentary officials prepare the chamber for voting prior to an unsuccessful vote of no-confidence against President Jacob Zuma on August 8, 2017 in the South African National Assembly in Cape Town.
South Africa President Jacob Zuma on August 8 survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence, as ruling ANC party lawmakers stuck by their leader despite growing divisions and fierce criticism of his rule. Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of parliament, announced that the motion had been defeated, with 177 votes supporting and 198 votes against it. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / MARK WESSELS        (Photo credit should read MARK WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images)
Parliamentary officials prepare the chamber for voting prior to an unsuccessful vote of no-confidence against President Jacob Zuma on August 8, 2017 in the South African National Assembly in Cape Town. South Africa President Jacob Zuma on August 8 survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence, as ruling ANC party lawmakers stuck by their leader despite growing divisions and fierce criticism of his rule. Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of parliament, announced that the motion had been defeated, with 177 votes supporting and 198 votes against it. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / MARK WESSELS (Photo credit should read MARK WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images)

South African President Jacob Zuma survived yet another no-confidence vote Tuesday, the sixth since he was elected in 2009. Conducted by secret ballot for the first time — a move to encourage African National Congress parliamentarians to “vote with their conscience” — the measure failed in the National Assembly, with 177 members of parliament voting in favor, 198 against, and nine abstentions. Twenty-six MPs from his own party voted for the measure.

This was the closest the opposition has come to removing him from office.

The vote came after a heated 90-minute debate. If it had passed, Zuma would have been forced to step down and the speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, would have served as interim.

Though Zuma has faced rising criticism in the past couple months after 100,000 leaked documents revealed connections to the wealthy Gupta family, which was accused of trying to influence politicians, the president has a history of surviving no-confidence votes. Zuma has survived six such motions in his eight years in office — three of those failed to garner a majority, another was amended into a vote of confidence, and another withdrawn — but with 35 members of his own party refusing to back their leader, his political fortunes may run out sooner rather than later.

Zuma’s legacy has been defined by scandal. Even before his presidency he was charged with raping an HIV-positive family friend and accused of dipping into public funds in order to remodel his house. But while the public is showing dissent, any change must happen within the ANC.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party had hoped that the secret ballot would help voters defect from Zuma, however, others believed that the ANC would not want to appear weak by changing leadership, and would instead wait until December, when the ANC is scheduled to elect a new party leader, the New York Times reported.

It appears they were right. ANC members said Tuesday that removing Zuma would create instability in the country.

This vote “is not about Zuma. Nobody cares about him,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga told the Washington Post. “It’s about the ANC. And it’s about the future costs to the ANC.”

President Zuma has endorsed his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, for president in the next election.

Photo credit: MARK WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images

Correction, Aug. 9, 2017: Twenty-six ANC MPs voted to remove Zuma from office while nine abstained. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 177 MPs from Zuma’s party voted to remove him from office. That tally represents the sum of no-confidence votes from the whole National Assembly. 

Jesse Chase-Lubitz is an American Society of Magazine Editors intern at Foreign Policy. She is currently studying history and evolutionary biology of the human species at Columbia. Before that, she worked as a professional ballet dancer in Chicago and Austin.

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