The last two weeks have been given over to overoptimistic outpourings of happiness. Here is the grumpy note I put out on April Fool’s Day as the aforementioned came out skipping into the park, hope reliably triumphing over experience:
The Constitutional Court ruling against Jacob Zuma yesterday is another significant blow to his credibility and will reflect negatively on the ANC. However he (Zuma) remains in control of his party (even if slightly weakened) and with a significant degree of electoral popularity, especially in rural areas and KwaZulu-Natal. For now I maintain the position that he is most likely not to be recalled before his terms of office ends in 2017 (as ANC President) and 2019 (as country President) – although a recall remains a reasonable possibility. I outline the arguments for and against this view.
Does Jacob Zuma face a recall?
A flurry of speculation about a possible recall of Jacob Zuma has followed the ruling against him and the National Assembly by the Constitutional Court yesterday.
The Financial Times yesterday pointed out in an article sub-headed “Real and Ibovespa shine as president’s prospects darken” that “Brazil’s left-leaning president, Dilma Rousseff, probably will not miss when she leaves office … the tendency of markets to loudly applaud her every misfortune” – FT online on March 31 2016 at 08h35.
A similar dynamic is emerging around the apparent fortunes of Jacob Zuma – at least since his unexpected and unexplained firing of widely respected Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene on 09/12/2015.
So will Zuma be recalled before his terms of office expire?
As an ‘uncertain future event’ question, I am obliged not to give a ‘yes or no’ answer – after all, how can I know?
In the normal course of events Jacob Zuma would be replaced at the ANC’s National Conference in 2017 (probably in December of that year), and as country President after national elections in 2019.
However the damaging scandals that are accumulating around him – the Nkandla scandal and now the humiliating ConCourt ruling, his raid on the National Treasury that underlay his firing of Nene, the widespread criticism of his apparently crony relationship with the Gupta family businesses, the serious deterioration of the State Owned Enterprises and other areas of the state, partly as a result of corruption that directly implicates his (Zuma’s) patronage networks – must in turn be damaging his ANC party.
- The ANC’s political history will favour an instinctive taking of a protective stance towards its leader and attempting to present a united external front.
- The ANC is facing a major electoral challenge in national municipal elections in (probably) August this year. It would be extremely difficult for the party to deal with the recall of a still popular and powerful (however bizarre that might seem) president and fight an election at the same time.
- The ANC was badly damaged and riven after the recall of Thabo Mbeki by the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in September 2008 and is likely to be cautious about undergoing a similar process against Zuma.
- Zuma remains powerful within the ANC, having bound the majority of members of the NEC and many powerful provincial leaders into loyalty networks based primarily on patronage and the threat of the loss thereof. His power is slipping but my guestimate is that support is still comfortably above the 50% mark.
- Zuma remains popular in large sections of the electorate, particularly in the majority province of KwaZulu-Natal and in most rural areas. He has lost significant support in urban areas and amongst the emerging black middle-classes, but this ‘loss’ is still a minority of the ANC’s electorate.
- The ConCourt ruling essentially affirmed something Zuma’s counsel had already admitted to in the original hearing on Tuesday 9th of February and was surprising primarily for its clarity and depth, its additional criticism of the National Assembly for not holding Zuma to account and its clear list of corrective measures to be taken. This is to say it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the markets or the public.
- If Jacob Zuma loses control of the ANC and of the succession process the chances of him becoming swamped by serious corruption allegations after his term of offices ends increases significantly. His and his cronies’ backs are to the wall and they will fight vigorously – and with proven skill – to prevent a loss of control of the ANC.
- Jacob Zuma has brought much scandal to the Presidency that we believe has damaged the party’s support – although not yet to a degree that puts the ANC in danger of getting below 50% in a national election. (Again a thumbsuck – Ed.)
- The growing scandals have finally led to the emergence of an internal opposition (internal to the ruling ANC) that showed itself with Jacob Zuma being forced into an almost immediate recall of Des van Rooyen as the replacement finance minister after the Nene firing and the appointment of a previous finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. Since then significant cracks have begun appearing in Zuma’s previously impervious hold on the party, particularly around his apparently corrupt relationship with the Gupta family, whereby he may have handed his exclusive obligation to appoint cabinet ministers to the Gupta brothers. Again, these are setbacks, but have not yet left Zuma isolated. (A lot has happened since I wrote that … amazing that it was only 14 days ago).
- If the ANC does particularly badly in the coming municipal elections it is likely that pressure for some kind of recall will increase in the party.
- As Zuma moves closer to the end of his term – and the end of his ability to dispense patronage – it is likely that more distasteful aspects of his support will begin to dissipate, leaving him more vulnerable to an early recall.
On balance …
I think it is most likely that Jacob Zuma serves out his full term of office in both the ANC and the country. Additionally I think it is most likely that as we move closer to the end of his terms of office he will agree to take a step back and play more of a ceremonial role – probably in exchange for some form of promise of immunity. (We are not confident that such a “promise” has any value, but will examine this in later posts – Ed).
A recall is not impossible – or a resignation due to ill health, for example – but I consider this a lower probability than the alternative. It is important to point out I am not ‘married’ to this view and we will change it if and when circumstances and the facts change.
Lame duck – or at least limping slightly
What is clear, and should be considered good news, is that Zuma and his allies are fully taken up with fighting a defensive action. This significantly will lower their confidence and ability to engage in untoward activity with regard to state expenditure, also in the expenditure of State Owned Enterprises, or in undertaking any major cabinet reshuffles to achieve these ends. This may also apply to the proposed nuclear programme.
For example any form of follow-through on the December 2015 raid on the National Treasury or attempts to undermine Pravin Gordhan in his role as National Treasurer are likely to retreat (or at least be deprioritised) in the agenda of the Zuma clan and its business allies.
Thus the impunity with which Zuma and his allies have acted in ransacking aspects of the state is collapsing through hubris and overreach. His support is, as I have argued previously, brittle: hard, unyielding but likely to shatter when it breaks.
 Ibovespa is the benchmark stock index of the São Paulo Stock Exchange (Bolsa de Valores, Mercadorias & Futuros de São Paulo).