JOHANNESBURG — “He’ll go now-now.”
That’s how a South African weekly over the weekend summarized the uncertainty surrounding President Jacob Zuma’s fate as the nation’s leader. Yes, he’ll almost certainly step down, but not right now. Instead, it’ll be sometime in the near future, or, to use a quintessential South African expression, “now-now.”
Negotiations between Mr. Zuma and his deputy and probable successor as president, Cyril Ramaphosa, over South Africa’s presidency entered their second week on Monday after days of premature reports that Mr. Zuma’s exit was imminent. The lack of clarity surrounding his future — and the nature of the talks themselves — deepened the anxiety and frustration among many South Africans.
But a marathon meeting on Monday of leaders of the African National Congress raised the possibility that the drawn-out negotiations were finally coming to an end. The leaders met late into the night on Monday. Around midnight, the state broadcaster said that party leaders had directed Mr. Ramaphosa to personally deliver to Mr. Zuma a demand that he resign within 48 hours.
But that report could not be independently confirmed, and hours earlier, Mr. Zuma’s spokesman had called reports that Mr. Zuma’s resignation was imminent “fake news.”
On Sunday, Mr. Ramaphosa said that South Africans were looking for an end to the political drama.
“We know you want this matter to be finalized,” he said. “We know you want closure on this matter.”
Mr. Ramaphosa added that the meeting on Monday of the party’s 86-member national executive committee would “discuss this very matter and because our people want this matter to be finalized, the N.E.C. will be doing precisely that.”
Mr. Ramaphosa, though, gave no indication of why the meeting had been suddenly called. Would the committee be informed of the results of his one-to-one talks with Mr. Zuma? Or would the committee be called on to vote to recall a still-defiant Mr. Zuma?
At a party conference in December, Mr. Ramaphosa, who has been the nation’s deputy president since 2014, succeeded Mr. Zuma as the leader of the A.N.C. He defeated Mr. Zuma’s chosen successor, his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Since then, Mr. Ramaphosa and his allies have been pressing Mr. Zuma to resign as the nation’s president, though his term does not expire until mid-2019. They argued that Mr. Ramaphosa should become the nation’s leader as soon as possible, to rebuild the A.N.C. ahead of national elections in 2019 and to woo back voters disillusioned by the years of corruption, scandals and mismanagement under Mr. Zuma.
Opposition parties increased pressure on Mr. Ramaphosa on Monday, holding a joint news conference to demand that national elections, scheduled for mid-2019, be called early. They pushed for a motion of no confidence in Parliament to be moved up from Feb. 22 to this week.
If Mr. Ramaphosa is unable to conclude talks with Mr. Zuma before a no-confidence vote, A.N.C. lawmakers will be faced with two unattractive options: vote with the opposition, which will take credit for bringing down Mr. Zuma, or support Mr. Zuma.
“They are in a difficult situation,” said Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, which put forward the motion.
In South Africa, Parliament, which is dominated by the A.N.C., selects the nation’s president. But if the party’s national executive committee orders Mr. Zuma to step down, it is likely that he will, if only to avoid a humiliating outcome in Parliament.
Opposition leaders said that the fate of the presidency should not be left in the hands of two men, or two factions vying for supremacy inside the A.N.C. The party steadfastly supported Mr. Zuma during his nearly nine years in office, they said, adding that the recent move to unseat Mr. Zuma was the result of a party split — and not a genuine attempt to transform itself.
“They want Zuma to go because it’s their time — for Cyril’s group — to eat,” Mr. Malema said of Mr. Ramaphosa’s supporters. “They call it a transition. Transition from what? It’s factions swapping seats.”
With an eye toward uniting the party, Mr. Ramaphosa had pressed Mr. Zuma to resign voluntarily, his supporters said. A recall by the national executive committee — or a motion of no confidence in Parliament — would risk widening the party split, or even giving birth to splinter parties.
Mr. Ramaphosa said last week that he was engaged in direct talks with Mr. Zuma over a transition, but he has given no details about what they discussed. The local news media has reported that Mr. Zuma may be trying to secure his future and his family’s against official inquiries into corruption during his nearly nine years in office.
News reports said that Mr. Zuma may also have pressed for the state to pay any legal costs that arise from future proceedings. Mr. Zuma, who is facing a number of charges and inquiries, has used the courts to delay proceedings against him.
At a news conference Monday morning, Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said that Mr. Zuma should be afforded no special treatment, including security after his presidency.
“There’s no place as secure as a maximum-security prison,” Mr. Maimane said, adding that the rule of law should be allowed to take its course against Mr. Zuma.
On Sunday, Mr. Ramaphosa spoke of the need to carry out talks with Mr. Zuma with “care and purpose.”
“The key objective is uniting our people,” he said.
Although Mr. Zuma has remained silent in the past week, people close to him warned about the consequences of forcing him to step down.
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