South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma narrowly survived another vote of no confidence on Tuesday.
The motion of no confidence was defeated by 198 votes versus 177, according to Bloomberg figures. The vote was held by secret ballot for the first time.
Some market watchers argued ahead of the vote that it would fail, noting that Zuma’s term as leader of his party, the African National Congress, ends in December 2017, anyway, although his term as president ends in 2019.
Others said that the secret ballot might incentivise members of the president’s party to vote against him. Although the vote didn’t pass, the numbers suggest that a chunk of ANC MPs didn’t vote to reject the motion.
“The fact that only 198 MPs voted to reject today’s motion of no confidence, even though the ANC has 249 MPs in parliament, suggests that there was a significant rebellion against the President from within his own party,” William Jackson, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.
“That said, most votes for a ANC new party leader are made by local branches, where Mr. Zuma appears more popular,” Jackson added.
The South African rand tumbled shortly after the news crossed the wires, reversing the previous day’s gains. It was down by 1.3% at 13.3877 per US dollar around 12:51 p.m. ET.
Zuma’s presidency has been checkered by numerous political blunders over the years, which have hampered the country’s reputation in the eyes of investors. He has survived several motions of no confidence before, although the previous ones were by an open vote, and has dealt with accusations of corruption.
Tuesday’s motion was filed back in April by the largest opposition party, Democratic Alliance, after Zuma reshuffled his cabinet overnight in late March. He replaced ministers and deputy ministers, including his respected finance minister, Pravan Gordhan, with mostly loyalists and political allies.
Ratings agencies S&P and Fitch downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk in the immediate aftermath of the cabinet shuffle, putting the rand under pressure. South Africans took to the streets to protest.
Zuma’s political controversies have drawn attention away from South Africa’s pressing long-term economic challenges. The country has been struggling with sluggish economic growth for some time now, and recently slumped into its first recession since 2009.