Had it gone ahead, it would have been the first such vote against a ruling South African head of state since apartheid ended in 1994, showing growing opposition impatience with Zuma.
In the end, his party, the African National Congress, which holds a huge majority in the assembly, amended the motion so it became a vote of confidence.
A shrewd political survivor, the 68-year-old Zuma is battling fires on various fronts since becoming president in May 2009, including a furore about fathering a child out of wedlock with a friend’s daughter.
Union and communist allies, who aided Zuma’s rise to power, are testing his political resolve by agitating for economic policy change, while violent protests by communities fed up with their living conditions are another concern as South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup from June.
The ANC branded the no-confidence motion “frivolous” and publicity seeking.
It was initiated by the Congress of the People (Cope), the second biggest opposition party formed when some members broke away from ruling African National Congress (ANC). However, not all opposition parties supported them.
“The president has by his own wilful conduct and dangerously flawed judgment lost the confidence of this house and the nation,” Mvume Dandala, Cope’s leader said in the original motion before parliament.
“He should do the honourable thing and resign his office,” Dandala said, highlighting Zuma’s perceived failure to act against graft, his risky sexual behaviour and poor record of accountability as the factors behind their call.
Polygamist Zuma, having overcome previous rape and corruption charges, has been criticised for his penchant for unprotected sex in a country with one of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS caseloads.
The ANC dismissed Cope’s motion.
“The amendment moved … (to) substitute that the house has full confidence in the President of the Republic of South Africa and appreciates his leadership over government and the nation,” Max Sisulu, national assembly speaker said.
Zuma was in Zimbabwe during the vote, brokering power-sharing talks between President Robert Mugabe and his coalition partner Morgan Tsvangirai. Reuters