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
28 November 2006

Chihuahua or Rottweiler?

Most observers would agree that Parliament has not covered itself in glory over the past twelve years. It is supposed to be a watchdog over the executive but has been more Chihuahua than Rottweiler.

Recently this has started to change with some of the Portfolio Committees of the National Assembly taking decisive steps to probe the executive and to expose maladministration and incompetence.

Members of the executive (the real Rottweilers?) have been biting back, with Deputy Minister and resident bully, Johnny De Lange, complaining recently about the bad legal counsel in Parliament.

No wonder then that Speaker Baleka Mbete is reported in today’s Business Day as complaining about attacks by the executive on members of Parliament for fulfilling their oversight role.

According to Business Day:

Mbete said she had had a meeting earlier this year where she was told that ministers were not happy with some of the questions MPs were asking them. She had told the executive to draw up a document on the matter. However, she said she had not yet received it.
This is of course all Jacob Zuma’s fault. With the battles raging inside the majority party and resident Thabo Mbeki’s power slipping away, some MP’s have stopped fearing for their political futures and have started thinking for themselves.

But once a successor is safely ensconced in the Presidency all this independence may come to an end. This is not – as the DA would say – because ANC MP’s are spineless and unprincipled but because the system does not really give them a choice.

The problem is that in a pure proportional representation system with strong party discipline and party deployment where party leaders have a strong say in who appears where on party election lists, it will be political suicide for an MP in the National Assembly to rough up a cabinet minister.

Tomorrow that same cabinet minister will decide whether you should be deployed to Khazakstan as South Africa’s new cultural attaché.

Two things should happen before MP’s acquire permanent back bone. First, there should be a change in the electoral system to allow a majority of MP’s to be directly elected in constituencies. Second, legislation should be adopted similar to that in Germany that regulates and ensures internal party democracy in the election of representatives.

Both such moves would fundamentally weaken the hold of the party leaders over the party. It is therefore probably not going to happen. The leaders of both the DA and the ANC enjoy the control they have and will not easily give it up.

The best bet for us mere mortals is for an election result down the line that produces a hung Parliament like the hung council in Cape Town. If, say, the ANC obtains 40% of the vote, the SACP, 10% and the DA 20%, it will make for a much more interesting and effective Parliament.

Blade, can you and your party make the jump into electoral politics?

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