Zuma's MK party seeks to block South African parliament citing vote-rigging

Zuma's MK party seeks to block South African parliament citing vote-rigging

By Kopano Gumbi and Sfundo Parakozov

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -Former South African president Jacob Zuma's uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party has applied to the country's top court to block the newly elected parliament from sitting this week on the grounds that the May 29 vote was marred by fraud, it said on Tuesday.

The National Assembly is due to convene on Friday for lawmakers to swear the oath of office and elect their speaker, deputy speaker and the country's president.

The challenge from MK comes as South Africa faces a level of political uncertainty unseen in 30 years of democracy, with no clarity as to who will govern the country when the electoral dust settles.

The African National Congress, which has been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994, lost its majority but remains the biggest party, and is now negotiating with a range of other parties with diametrically opposed policy aspirations.

MK came a surprisingly strong third, winning 14.6% of the vote which translates into 58 seats in the 400-seat chamber, but despite its success it has alleged vote-rigging took place and threatened to boycott the new parliament.

"The 2024 elections were anything but free and fair," said Sihle Ngubane, MK's secretary-general, in the party's application to the Constitutional Court, which it circulated to media on Tuesday via a WhatsApp group.

The Independent Electoral Commission and other parties said the election was free and fair, and South Africa does not have a history of significant vote fraud.

"My view is that it's not going to change anything that happens between now and Friday," said Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, referring to MK's court application.

He said there was not enough substance in the party's document to warrant the intervention of the Constitutional Court.

Pierre de Vos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Cape Town, said the application would not be successful as the law was clearly against MK.

"I am assuming the application was brought for political and not legal reasons," he said in a post on X.

'VINTAGE ZUMA'

A new entrant in South African politics, MK gained momentum after Zuma announced in December he would be backing the party and soon became its leader.

The party advocates rewriting the constitution, seizing land from white farmers and nationalising all natural resources including mines.

Political analyst Ongama Mtimka, a lecturer at Nelson Mandela University, said it was in MK's interest to create anxiety about the outcome of the election because it wanted leverage in negotiations with the ANC and other parties.

"It is only in an environment of panic that political accommodation would be considered," he said, adding: "It's vintage Zuma, playing the role of perpetual victimhood."

A longtime pillar of the ANC, Zuma fell out with the party after he was forced to quit as president in 2018 over a string of corruption scandals. He was jailed in 2021 for refusing to give evidence at a public inquiry that found there had been widespread public sector corruption during his administration.

News of Zuma's jailing triggered deadly riots in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, where extra police have been deployed in the wake of the election.

Zuma retains a vast and loyal following in the populous province, where the major city of Durban is located. MK won 45.9% of the parliamentary vote there, compared with a humiliating 17.6% for the ANC.

MK's name, which means "Spear of the Nation" in Zulu, was also the name of the ANC's armed wing from the apartheid era, but an attempt by the ANC before the election to prevent its rival from using that name and branding was unsuccessful.

(Additional reporting by Tannur Anders and Alexander WinningWriting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Christina Fincher)