, CAPE TOWN, May 6 – South Africa’s new parliament convenes for the first time on Wednesday to elect ANC chief Jacob Zuma president, after he won over millions of voters on a pro-poor populist ticket.
The fourth democratic parliament, seated in Cape Town, will swear in 400 lawmakers in the NationalAssembly, after an intense election campaign marked by a break in the ruling party.
With a 66 percent majority in parliament, ANC candidate Zuma is expected to slide into top position with ease.
The controversial polygamist was booted out of parliament in 2005 when he was fired by former president Thabo Mbeki after his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik was jailed for fraud and corruption.
Zuma was implicated in the charges against Shaik, facing his own eight-year long battle with graft charges which were finally dropped earlier this year amid evidence of government interference in pursuing the case.
His triumphant return to parliament was hard-won and came on a wave of popular support as his hardline backers cried foul and claimed a conspiracy against him, splitting the ANC into two camps and resulting in a near political crisis.
While the ANC won elections last week with a convincing majority, the party did not go unscarred by the internal bickering and a record of failed public service delivery, losing 15 seats in the legislature and a two-thirds majority which enables it to pass constitutional changes.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance’s ranks have swelled by almost 20 seats to 67. A breakaway faction of ANC dissidents who left the party after Mbeki was forced to resign, the Congress of the People, makes its parliamentary debut with 30 seats.
Zuma has promised more focus on service delivery, and greater accountability to voters, but parliament’s own integrity has been bruised by a series of scandals and corruption by scores of members found guilty of abusing travel vouchers.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said a two-year assessment of parliament, instituted by the house itself, found the legislature exercising inadequate oversight of government. Matshiqi, who participated in the study, said that was unlikely to change soon.
The panel had recommended electoral reform, saying the current system makes parliament more accountable to party bosses than voters, who didn’t even know who was supposed to represent them in their constituencies.
About 30,000 people, and 5,000 dignitaries will attend Zuma’s inauguration on Saturday in Pretoria.His new cabinet will be announced by Sunday and speculation is rife over who will fill key posts such as finance, health and education.
"The appointments will need to reflect a desire on the part of the new ANC government to enhance service delivery," Matshiqi told AFP.
Zuma’s leftist backers from trade unions and the communist party had complained of being sidelined under Mbeki, and are pushing for a greater voice in Zuma’s cabinet.
The hottest topic is who will head the finance ministry, which has been widely hailed under Trevor Manuel for 13 years.
He is credited with policies that have protected the country from the banking crisis, but he has often clashed with unions over his market-friendly policies.
Local media tip him to lead a powerful new oversight body that is to monitor government’s performance, while respected tax boss Pravin Gordin could take his place at finance.