DA’s constitutional amendment proposal to limit coalition instability after 2024 election met with lukewarm reception
Parliament was not a ‘post box for government legislation’ and must prepare for possible hung provincial legislatures, even a hung Parliament, said DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube, introducing legislative proposals to limit no-confidence motions against premiers and the president.
The Constitution 19th Amendment Bill aims to bring stability to national and provincial government by pre-emptively limiting to once a year, motions of no confidence – the tool that’s triggered the governance instability wracking metros like Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.
“It would be catastrophic to see the stability of national or provincial government go the way of municipalities. Motions of no confidence have been abused for political reasons. We have seen people removed due to chequebook politics, not constitutional grounds.
“This has wreaked havoc for service delivery,” said DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube in Thursday’s first reading debate.
More than one motion of no confidence in a 12-month period would still be possible on grounds of incapacity, incompetence and serious violations of the Constitution or laws, according to the proposed constitutional change.
Calling on fellow parliamentarians to be responsive across the party-political divide in the interest of voters and service delivery, Gwarube added, “We are not the post office for government legislation.”
The DA chief whip in late March initiated the constitutional amendment proposal alongside a similar one for local government after an appeal for input to all political parties represented in Parliament.
In late May, the news that Cooperative Governance was drafting legislation amid plans by the Presidency to hold a national dialogue on coalitions emerged during Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s parliamentary question session.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Coalition law in the making – but not to shore up ANC if it loses outright control in 2024 elections, says Mashatile
This situation highlights not only how uncoordinated law-making can be, but also how ministers and their departments claim for themselves Parliament’s constitutional law-making mandate. Even if at issue is coalition governance instability, that, as the national coalition dialogue agreed, undermines accountability and service delivery.
Indications are Cooperative Governance is continuing with its draft law.
This did not undermine the national dialogue because its discussions and recommendations, like the recent SA Local Government Association conference outcomes, would be included in the legislation, Deputy Cooperative Governance Minister Parks Tau told MPs during Wednesday’s governance Q&A.
However, the Cooperative Governance legislation is not expected to see the light of day before the 2024 elections, as the 4 September executive legislation tabling deadline is long past.
Gwarube’s Private Member’s Bill may just make it before Parliament rises for the 2024 elections – if MPs were to approve it.
The motions of no confidence-triggered revolving door of municipal governments have been particularly stark in metros like Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay where the focus falls on power politics and posts.
At national and provincial levels, it’s been less contested as the governing ANC in eight provinces secured sufficient votes in 2019 to form the government outright, as did the DA in the Western Cape. But that’s widely expected to change, as pundits predict a significant loss of support for the governing ANC – potentially below 50%.
On Thursday, Gwarube appealed to fellow legislators to step up to their constitutional legislative mandate.
“Parliament must prepare itself for an eventuality that we do not necessarily have one dominant party,” she said. “We can not sit back and wait… and we have no idea how to deal with a situation where we have a hung legislature or hung Parliament.”
But as a Private Member’s Bill, the proposed constitutional amendment – regardless of its potential legislative and political merits – has uncertain prospects.
The governing ANC has used its numerical dominance in Parliament to nix such initiatives; a rare exception was the 2017 African Christian Democratic Party’s paid paternity leave Private Member’s Bill.
In Thursday’s debate, the Freedom Front Plus supported the legislative proposals, but the EFF rejected the bill as an elitist move to limit accountability.
“The more frequent these motions are, the more vibrant our democracy is,” said EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi.
ANC MP Nomathemba Maseko-Jele’s contribution was disrupted by technical issues triggered by Stage 6 power blackouts, but her invocation of “the deputy president and legislative processes” – references to the national coalition dialogue and Cooperative Governance’s law-making – could indicate the ANC’s opposition.
That would effectively mean Gwarube’s legislative proposals are likely to fail when next week the House is asked to vote on whether the constitutional amendment should be submitted for further processing by the justice committee. DM