Zuma in a fix over one or two terms


IN RECENT weeks Cosatu's Zwelinzima Vavi and the ANC Youth League's Julius Malema were at each other's throats about whether the moment is opportune to start talking about who will succeed Jacob Zuma as the country's president.

Malema does not think so, while Vavi says Zuma must serve two terms. In fact, by saying that he will only serve one term before the April 2009 elections, Zuma sparked the debate as to who will succeed him.

Succession plans take several years to develop and implement. Even if you were to argue that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe will most likely take over, the question still arises who will deputise him.

Speaking on Youth Day in Katlehong recently, Malema said "this is a divisive issue" and it is too early to debate it.

"The future of President Zuma will be decided by us at the right time."

Zuma echoed Malema's view at the recent Cosatu conference in Midrand, while Vavi went even further to make himself available for a top position in the ANC's next elective conference. My view is that Zuma is politically caught between a rock and a hard place.

In the middle of all these demands for paybacks, and kingmaker contests from Malema, Vavi and Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, it is Zuma who must make the calculated decision to serve one or two terms.

But there are consequences both ways.

He might decide to serve one term. If he does, he might be relatively firm on demands put to him by the leadership of the alliance and ANC Youth League to placate their constituencies.

Among other things, demands to do away with inflation targeting, demands for higher public sector wages and general calls for an economic policy shift to the left (which Zuma has now welcomed).

Some might ask who is running the government? Is it Luthuli House or Cosatu House or both? Is the president and ministers merely stooges that must be told what to do.

Dlamini reportedly told the Sunday Timesin response to this question that "the way we understand it, the government is a government of the ANC. It is not the ANC of the government".

How telling indeed.

If Zuma chooses one term he could reasonably stand up to all these demands and provide firm leadership without fear of not being elected president of the ANC and of the country in 2014.

Ministers must account to him. After all, he is the head of those deployed by the ANC to implement its policies and programmes in government.

Summoning ministers to Luthuli House undermines his authority over them. Of course, he might run the risk of being recalled like former president Thabo Mbeki when Luthuli House felt he undermined their political authority.

The other downside is that by serving only one term he immediately becomes a lame duck president, with all the political focus put on who will succeed him and the ambitious pretenders to the throne beginning to position themselves early in his term.

The other option is to go for two terms. With this option he will wield more power and influence because his political lieutenants will know that he still holds sway, the power over their political future beyond 2014.

The downside is that should he wish to serve two terms, he must dance to the tunes of those who made him king. That is mainly the ANC Youth League, Cosatu and his financial backers.

But the truth is that as a leader, if you choose the populist approach, you give away part of being your own man in the end. Whether Zuma decides to serve one or two terms, he unfortunately stands to lose either way.

lThe writer is a businessman and independent commentator on media and politics. He holds a MA in Media and Communications from Birmingham City University in the UK