South Africa’s ANC party confirmed on Tuesday it had decided to “recall” scandal-tainted President Jacob Zuma from office but said there was no deadline for him to resign, pitching the country into further uncertainty.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule told reporters that Zuma had “agreed in principle to resign and had proposed time frames extending from three to six months.”
But Magashule said there was no date for Zuma to stand down, and added that there would be “continuing interaction” between party officials and Zuma.
“In its wisdom, the NEC (National Executive Committee) decided… to recall its deployee Jacob Zuma,” Magashule told reporters.
“The decision by the NEC to recall its deployee was taken only after exhaustive discussion on the impact such a recall would have on the country.”
The ANC party can “recall” the head of state, but the process is a party-level instruction and he is under no constitutional obligation to obey.
The ANC said Zuma would respond to the recall decision on Wednesday.
The power struggle over Zuma’s departure has put the president at loggerheads with Cyril Ramaphosa, his expected successor, who is the new head of the African National Congress.
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The ANC’s leadership committee met for 13 hours at a hotel outside Pretoria, and decided in the early hours of Tuesday to “recall” Zuma from his post.
A committee member confirmed to AFP that the president had asked for three more months in office, and described the request as “hogwash.”
“We just felt he meant three months of looting,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The political deadlock has plunged South Africa – Africa’s most developed economy – into confusion over who is running the country, with a series of public events cancelled last week including the annual State of the Nation address to parliament.
“We know you want this matter to be finalised,” Ramaphosa, 65, told a party rally in Cape Town on Sunday.
“We know you want closure… Because our people want this matter to be finalised, the NEC will be doing precisely that.”
South African opposition parties have called for early elections as the ANC’s leadership battle grinds on.
An opposition request for a no-confidence vote against Zuma, 75, this week was still being considered by the parliamentary speaker.
Zuma’s presidency has been marred by corruption scandals, slow economic growth and record unemployment that have fuelled public anger.
He was scheduled to stand down next year after serving the maximum two terms after coming to power in 2009.
In 2008, Zuma’s supporters pushed out then-president Thabo Mbeki via a “recall” over allegations of abuse of power.
In local polls in 2016, the ANC recorded its worst electoral result since coming to power with Nelson Mandela at the helm in 1994 when white-minority rule fell.
The party faces a tricky general election next year.
Ramaphosa is a former trade unionist and Mandela ally who led talks to end apartheid in the early 1990s and then became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.
Zuma’s hold over the ANC was shaken in December when his chosen successor – his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in a vote to be the new party leader.
The ANC has insisted there will be no delay to the budget speech, which is due on February 21.