Any half decent lawyer would not have been surprised that the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this week that the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) was mistaken when she claimed she did not have the power to order a secret ballot in a vote of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma. It is also not surprising that the Court – demonstrating a slightly better understanding of the separation of powers doctrine than the Public Protector – declined to order the Speaker to conduct the vote of no confidence via secret ballot. But the judgment does contain unexpectedly strong language about the need for Parliament (and especially the NA) to hold the Executive (headed by President Zuma) accountable.

On paper, the National Assembly (NA) is the most powerful branch of the state. While judges interpret and apply legislation and the provisions of the Constitution, the NA is the body (along with the National Council of Provinces) tasked with passing legislation and amending the Constitution. The NA also elects the President, and can fire the President and the entire cabinet for any reason it deems fit. It is also constitutionally mandated to hold the President and the rest of the cabinet accountable and to play an oversight role over the executive and other constitutional bodies. (more…)

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Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
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