By Samantha Lee
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African opposition parties pushed on Thursday for a no-confidence vote against President Jacob Zuma for alleged corruption and economic bungling, a symbolic move that could nevertheless embarrass him as he seeks re-election as head of the ruling ANC.
The request has to get the green light from speaker Max Sisulu, an African National Congress stalwart (ANC), although the Democratic Alliance (DA) said there was no precedent for parliament not to hear a proposed no-confidence debate.
The opposition made a similar push in 2010 after a scandal about Zuma's sex life, although the ANC tweaked the motion into a "confidence vote" which Zuma survived comfortably.
"It is an important motion and it would frankly be a dereliction of parliament not to table it and debate it at the earliest opportunity," Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the DA, the main opposition party, told a news conference.
The opposition said that under his leadership the justice system has been politicized and corruption has escalated while chronic unemployment and a broken education system were posing long-term risks.
The ANC, which has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, has countered by saying it has made enormous strides in reducing poverty and is working to improve accountability in government.
Even if it goes ahead, Zuma's position is secure since the ANC controls 66 percent of the seats in parliament and dissent is almost unheard of.
However, in the past three months his administration has been rocked by the most damaging labor strikes since the end of apartheid and the police killing of 34 strikers at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine on August 16.
Two major ratings agencies have downgraded South Africa's outlook saying Zuma's government is taking Africa's largest economy on the wrong path with policies that erode its competitiveness.
Zuma is also facing public scrutiny for the government spending almost 250 million rand ($29 million) in state funds to upgrade his private residence.
The 70-year-old Zuma is the front-runner to win re-election as the ANC's leader at a party vote in December, putting him on track to serve as national president until 2019.
But there is significant internal opposition to his re-election and the no-confidence process could add ammunition to foes who see him as ineffectual and unqualified to run a sophisticated emerging economy.
The ANC's chief whip ridiculed the opposition motion as "desperate" and "silly".
"Such a stunt would be laughable or dismissed with silent contempt if it did not make a mockery of this august Parliament," he said.
(Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Angus MacSwan)