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 September 2007

Speak to us Mr President

The rumours, counter-rumours and newspaper leaks about the suspension of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and the alleged warrant of arrest issued for Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, is deeply damaging to our democracy. If it is all true, it would mean that the President had illegally and unconstitutionally suspended the NDPP to protect the Police Commissioner. This would be a blanant abuse of power and also illegal.

This is such a grave charge that one should be careful to make it. In the past President Mbeki has always formally shown great respect for the Constitution and the law and one should not assume that he has abused his power. If it were to be true it would constitute a grave constitutional crisis because the President would have interfered with the working of the prosecuting authority and would have prevented it from exercising its powers “without fear favour or prejudice” as guaranteed by the Constitution.

It is therefore absolutely imperitave that the the President speaks to the nation immediately to dispell these ugly rumours. Every day that he allows the rumours to swirl, is a day in which we are forced to come closer to the conclusion that our President is not a true constitutionalist and that he would be prepared to abuse his power to interfere with the workings of the criminal justice system. This would confirm all the conspiracy theories bandied about by the Zuma supporters and could easily set us on a very dangerous path towards disrespect for the Rule of Law.

If the rumours are all untrue and the President assures us accordingly, then the harm could be minimised. If he fails to dispell the rumours, then he would at best have shown utter contempt for both us, the electorate, and the constitution which requires him to uphold and protect its provisions. His silence is undermining the constitution and our respect of it.

As I am out of the country (in Amsterdam) I might be missing something – why are people not more upset, toyi-toying in the streets, storming Parliament? – but it seems to me the continuous rumours is a real disaster and a real crisis for our young democracy. It is poisoning our political system and may do it irreparable harm because it will make us distrust our leaders and the system. If our Presidnet cannot see this, or if he thinks that he does not have to deal with it, he is not worth the name of President.

Speak to us, Mr President. We voted you into office and you owe us an explanation.

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