South Africa

Parliament: ANC wants extended recess for electioneering as rumours of early election fly

By Marianne Merten 27 March 2018

Parliament will go on a two-and-a-half month recess from the end of May for electioneering, if the ANC has its way. Daily Maverick is reliably informed of the governing party’s proposal to be formally tabled when Parliament’s joint programming committee meets on Wednesday. It is expected to spark heated debates amid the legislative time crunch with 47 bills, some dating back three years, yet to be processed by Parliament. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

The proposal for a recess for (undefined) election purposes from the end of May – that’s when the Budget votes would have gone through the parliamentary process leading to the adoption of the Budget – until mid-August circulated in the parliamentary corridors on Tuesday.

It was confirmed by a senior ANC insider at Parliament, who was careful to also emphasise that those committees with urgent work would be expected to continue sitting. “We are preparing for elections. We give time for political parties to concentrate on elections.”

That elections are foremost on the ANC’s collective mind emerged on Sunday when its Secretary-General Ace Magashule said elections were “a standing item on the agenda of the National Executive Committee (NEC)”. But briefing journalists on the outcome of the three-day ANC NEC meeting, where Magashule indicated the election date as May 2019 and denied that early elections were discussed: “We did not discuss early elections.”

But with Fikile Mbalula, the former police minister turned ANC elections head, now based permanently at the ANC Luthuli House, there has already been an election workshop, and a decision to establish an election war room. And on Sunday Magashule confirmed the ANC’s election candidates’ nomination guidelines had been finalised and the target was to finalise the branch nomination processes, traditionally steeped in tensions and rivalries, by September 2018. That early planning, he added, was to give the ANC sufficient time for elections.

Politically-speaking there is a drive in the governing party to galvanise on the positive sentiments both domestically and internationally that emerged since Cyril Ramaphosa was first elected ANC president at the party’s December 2017 national conference, and then last month, as South Africa’s president. Ramaphosa’s thuma mina (send me) call invoking the late Hugh Masekela’s song, has found fertile ground locally. Internationally Ramaphosa’s swearing in as head of state has sparked positive sentiments, most recently stated by Moody’s which maintained South Africa’s investment grade rating, and upgraded the outlook to stable.

Opposition parties have been forced back to the drawing board amid this “Ramaphoria”, given that much of their politicking over the past few years had been focused on former president Jacob Zuma and his scandal ridden administration overshadowed by the Nkandla saga and more recently State Capture.

While coalition deals between the DA and EFF in Johannesburg and Tshwane appear to have outgrown initial teething problems, not so in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro where Mayor Athol Trollip faces an EFF motion of no confidence on Thursday. Largely due to Trollip’s non-consultative leadership style, EFF leader Julius Malema has also hooked this motion to the DA’s refusal to support the land expropriation without compensation.

Bottom line: the opposition parties are somewhat at sea, the ANC is on an up and keen to make the most of it. Whether a unusually long two-and-a-half month parliamentary recess from the end of May would be because of an early election, as the rumour mill speculated on Tuesday, or in order for the ANC to deploy its members as part of electioneering and election candidate nominations, was unclear. Either way, Parliament is under pressure.

While the ANC NEC may be able to spin matters and strategically keep mum, word very quickly spreads in the parliamentary corridors. Talk of the unusually long mid-year recess, and the linking of this to elections, emerged after the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) programming committee met on Tuesday to discuss its calendar for the rest of 2017.

DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen on Tuesday said it was “madness” to propose such a long recess. “The ANC needs to level with us as parliamentarians (as to) what is really behind this… The people’s business can’t simply be put on hold,” he told Daily Maverick. “If they are holding an early election (and) keeping it from other parties (it) is fundamentally dishonest and unfair.”

There is concern over the impact on law-making in Parliament. As of last week there were 33 bills before the National Assembly, some dating back three years, and 14 before the NCOP.

Last week it emerged that the National Minimum Wage Bill, and the related amendment legislation to existing labour laws, would not make it through the parliamentary process for enactment on 1 May 2018 as officially announced by government 13 months ago.

Other key draft laws pending before Parliament include the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill, key to policy stability in the mining sector, that was returned to the national legislature already in 2015, the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, several land-related bills as well as the Expropriation Bill and Critical Infrastructure Bill, both of which seek to bring apartheid-era laws still on the statute books into the democratic dispensation.

House Chairperson for Committees, Cedric Frolick told Daily Maverick that the proposal around the two-and-a-half month recess would be discussed at Wednesday’s joint programming committee. Asked about the potential impact of such a recess on the work of Parliament, Frolick said: “We are interacting with the leader of government business (Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza) on issues of legislation.” This included identifying crucial legislation as priorities.

According to the current parliamentary programme, the national legislature goes into recess on Thursday to return for its second term in mid-April until the end of June, with a month-long recess originally scheduled until end of July before parliamentarians again return in September.

All this is now up in the air, under the shadow of elections and electioneering. DM

Photo: A general view of the Parliament during a session to debate the president’s State of the Nation Address, Cape Town, South Africa 14 February 2017. Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA

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