South African opposition calls for early polls

South African President Jacob Zuma at the ruling African National Congress' national conference in Johannesburg last December. He has not spoken publicly since being asked to resign by senior party officials on Feb 4.
South African President Jacob Zuma at the ruling African National Congress' national conference in Johannesburg last December. He has not spoken publicly since being asked to resign by senior party officials on Feb 4.PHOTO: REUTERS

Move comes as ruling party grapples with deadlock over President Zuma's departure

JOHANNESBURG • South African opposition parties yesterday called for early elections as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) wrestled with a leadership battle between President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

"We must proceed to the dissolution of Parliament... Subsequent to that, we move on to an early election," Democratic Alliance party leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters, speaking alongside several opposition parties.

The ANC's executive committee held a special meeting yesterday, and could recall Mr Zuma from office.

But Mr Zuma - who has refused to resign - would be under no constitutional obligation to obey the order.

Mr Julius Malema of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters party said the extended deadlock was a political crisis for the country.

The President has not spoken publicly since being asked to resign by senior ANC officials on Feb 4.

Presidential spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga yesterday dismissed reports that Mr Zuma had agreed to resign as "fake news".

Mr Zuma faces a no-confidence motion in Parliament set for Feb 22, but has survived several similar attempts to oust him in the past. His tenure as President officially runs until the middle of next year.

On Sunday, Mr Ramaphosa promised to bring "closure" to deadlocked talks. At a party rally in Cape Town, he said he wanted to replace "a period of difficulty, disunity and discord" with "a new beginning".

"We know you want this matter to be finalised," he said, vowing to tackle corruption which has tarnished Mr Zuma's government.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni, however, said the ANC executive committee was split. He noted that some of its members were also facing corruption allegations.

"They will strive for consensus, but if that fails, it will go to a vote," he told eNCA television.

Mr Zuma's presidency has been marred by corruption scandals, slow economic growth and record unemployment.

The stalemate over his departure has left Africa's most developed economy in limbo, with a series of public events cancelled last week, including Thursday's State of the Nation address to Parliament.

Mr Zuma's hold over the ANC was shaken last December when his chosen successor - his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - narrowly lost out to Mr Ramaphosa in a vote to be the new party leader.

It is understood that a key sticking point in the negotiations is the potentially ruinous legal fees that Mr Zuma is facing from prolonged court battles against multiple criminal cases. He is also reportedly seeking legal protection for his family and other associates involved in controversial deals.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2018, with the headline 'S. African opposition calls for early polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe