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News

Call for a new way to elect president

Former president Thabo Mbeki has proposed a new parliamentary process which will test a presidential candidate for fitness to hold the highest office.

Mbeki said following the Nkandla judgment by the Constitutional Court, Parliament should find ways to satisfy itself that the person it elects was capable of fulfilling the obligations imposed by the constitution.

“One way of looking at that is to have the candidate answer questions in parliament prior to being voted for so that parliamentarians representatives of the people can say, this one has failed the test,” Mbeki said. “They can say, for instance, when he came to the interview, the chap was drunk. Before you say you vote for this person, a process of assessment is done.”

The Constitutional Court found that President Jacob Zuma failed to uphold and respect the constitution when he refused to implement the remedial actions prescribed by public protector Thuli Madonsela.

In an interview arranged as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, Mbeki told Sowetan that the president was a product of the constitution because his existence and election into office was prescribed by the constitution.

“Fortunately for us, they [Constitutional Court judges] took all those elements and put them into one box and said this is what the president should do. If you look into that list about the obligations, it tells you something.”

Mbeki described the duties of the president as an “onerous package” that requires a presidential candidate whose capacity needs to be checked in advance.

“Once you say [party A] proposes [candidate X] as president, first of all [party A] must really ascertain that this person is capable of discharging all these responsibilities that the court spelt out. And when parliament says we agree, we elect him as president, parliament itself must be able to say we are satisfied that this nominee is the person capable of doing the following…”

Mbeki said parliament could set aside time to question the presidential nominee to avoid electing an incompetent person.

“For instance, after a party has proposed [candidate X] as candidate, why shouldn’t parliamentarians, say that, okay, for the next week, this candidate must appear before us to answer a number of questions because we want to satisfy ourselves that this person is capable of discharging these responsibilities?

“So that you don’t simply say because my party is in the majority therefore my candidate obviously will have the majority votes, and therefore will be elected, [but] might be thoroughly incompetent.”

Mbeki said the constitution does not spell out this process but it leaves it to parliamentarians as representatives of the people to ensure they elect the right persons.

“The people who decide on who is going to be president is not the ruling party; it is parliament. It’s for parliament to satisfy itself that this person meets the requirements.”

Mbeki said if South Africans were made to understand in detail the duties of the president they would know whether or not parliament did well in choosing a president.

“If you broke it down, South Africans will say it’s not difficult to understand. They will look around and say, it was wrong for Mbeki to be elected president because there were one or two things he could never do. Why did we elect him?”