Zambia Constitutional Amendment 2015 Issues, the Running Mate

Zambia Constitutional Amendment 2015 Issues, the Running Mate

by Gabriel C Banda

President Lungu’s assenting to the Constitutional amendments bills of 2015 on Tuesday January 05th, 2016, will be a major mark in Zambia’s life.

Those Constitutional contents of Zambia will have various effects, some positive and some negative.

The 50 Per Cent Plus One provision in the presidential elections is likely to contribute to a succeeding Presidential candidate who, because of the second round where voters all over the country will zero in on two candidates and make choice, will have wider national acceptance than has happened in some elections.

There will be wider acceptance of the President ascended and serving in office. Previously, there are those of us that were worried that a candidate with the highest votes may have, say, 30% of the votes cast and will become president yet around 70% of the voters may not be for the person. This was unfair and undemocratic.

But from the 2016 elections, there will now likely be less discontent and hostility towards the elected President because people would have been given chance to select the final candidate, the President-Elect.

One hopes that the provisions on presidential election candidates will not lead to the emergence of a two-party system and some parties going into decline. Sadly, there have been some calls for parties to merge so that they may be bigger and stronger. This may negatively affect political advances in Zambia.

It does not mean that all who head political parties do so because they feel they will win the presidency. It is important to have various political parties as their members and leaders provide the very needed variation. They contribute various ideas, views, and positions. They are needed and should not phase out due to big-party political systems.

And the financial cost of a 50 Per Cent Plus One system should not be excuse not to have it. The cost is a necessary expense, worth it through the wide, national, and more democratic approval of the elected President. The cost is cheaper than discontent and hostility arising from a president that is not popularly elected.

There are other comments to be made about the various parts assented to. We will also be interested in considering practical issues and effects that might arise from some of the amendments done. Among others, practical challenges can be around provisions like minimum academic qualifications for Presidential, MP, and Councillor candidates.

For now, we will consider the Presidential “Running Mate” provision. It is about a Vice President candidate who is legally tied to the Presidential candidate and their term. They are a team.

The Presidential Running Mate clause has both advantages and potential problems. The Running Mate system has worked fairly well in places like the United States. In some places it has not worked well or, rather, it has failed.
The provision can help the public decide who should act as President when the President is not available. At present in Zambia, an acting President, whether the Vice President or another, and whether a good worker or not, is imposed on the public.

Currently, the President chooses the Vice President and, if required, can change them anytime, while still in term. This has both advantages and challenges.

The experience around the Michael Sata administration showed the difficulties of having to select who should be acting President even when the president goes out for a normal visit. This becomes a bigger problem when there is discord within a ruling party and various forces within are trying to take or influence presidential authority.

While there were some challenges around transition at the time of Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa’s passing away in 2008, the issue was very serious and disturbing at the illness and passing away of President Michael Sata in 2014.

This was due to weak, unstable, inconsistent, unavailable, or inadequate internal processes. There were challenges around structures, channels, management, practices, and succession procedures associated with the management practices of the then PF party administration.

The experience constitutes some of the weak parts of the legacy of our beloved Big Man, late Michael Sata, in his role as President. It is important to avoid similar situations happening.

In the new system, the Running Mate, the Vice President candidate, will be accepted as President to complete the term when a President, through factors like impeachment, ill-health, or death, ceases to be head of state.

And in the field of political party negotiations and concessions, a Running Mate will help parties in alliance, as the Vice President from another party in an alliance cannot be removed by the President after being voted in. This provides security of position to the Vice President but can also create national instability when the President and Vice President are at loggerheads, as happened in some countries.

Of course, there are many factors to consider over a Running Mate. Because the president will be bound to the person who is Vice President, the selection or choosing of a candidate must consider long-term factors. It must be more than just about the present. The Vice President, who in Zambia facilitates cabinet, parliamentary, and government issues, must be very competent and not just ceremonial.

The Vice President must respect and get on well with the President. For the stability of society, they must get on well throughout the term. It is expected that the Vice President will not attempt to directly or indirectly harm the President and the President’s office and government.

It is not exaggeration to say that it is possible that through differences or ambitions involving the two, a Vice might attempt to take over the Presidency from one who is still in term. Foul play may be attempted.

We also need to ask what happens when a Running Mate Vice President stops their role due to ill health, graft, or death. How smooth will be the process of replacing the Vice President while the President’s term is still on?

For some other limitations over a fixed Running Mate, we can also consider practical examples, such as that in our neighbourhood. The experience of Zambia’s neighbour Malawi provides lessons that are warnings or points to consider and rectify in order to make things smoother.

In 2004, President Bingu wa Mutharika, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, DPP, had Cassim Chilumpha, of the UDF party, as his Vice President. Later, the President and Vice President had strong differences. But Mutharika legally was not able to easily fire Chilumpha.

And later, in the elections of 2009, Bingu wa Mutharika got Mrs Joyce Banda as Running Mate. And, later, Vice President Joyce Banda and President Bingu wa Mutharika had big differences. But as she had been a Running Mate, Joyce Banda could not be removed as State Vice President, even though expelled from the ruling DPP party.

Meanwhile, because she was the holder of the state office, no one could be actively appointed to replace her. So, the Vice President had differences with the President and the Vice President was not reporting to the President.

She sat on the position and was not removable so that another person could do that state Vice President official role. She even formed her own party, the People’s Party, while being an official Vice President who was in practice not working for the president.

Thus there was some tension when Bingu wa Mutharika died, in April 2012, and she, being the official Vice President even though she had stopped working for the President and had formed her own People’s Party, PP, was lined to take over, by law.

Eventually, after difficulties, she did take over and became President. Now, it also happened that when Mama Joyce Banda was going for Presidential elections in May 2014, she had differences with her Vice President, Khumbo Kachali, who she chose not to adopt as her Running Mate.

Instead, she chose Sosten Gwengwe, a young man who had joined the ruling DPP party from opposition MCP and later, after Bingu wa Mutharika’s death in 2013, joined Joyce Banda’s PP, People’s Party. He became her Running Mate in the May 20, 2014 elections.

Of course, the selection of Running Mate created problems in her ruling party. Joyce Banda did not win the elections. Running Mate Sosten Gwengwe did not even win his former parliamentary seat. In 2015, there was talk of Gwengwe getting back to the MCP.

But clearly, the Running Mate condition was an important issue. The differences also created other difficulties in the country.

Thus, with our neighbours’ experiences as practical lessons, the Running Mate provision Zambia is trying to adopt now must be carefully thought through, with potential challenges dealt with and sealed.

Of course, the Running Mate provision affects political parties in various ways. It will have implications in ruling and opposition parties. Some will find difficulties to field a Running Mate. The provision may shake and divide some parties. The provision will also affect alliances of political parties as they try to offer a common candidate and make deals on who should be President and Vice President candidates.

Because of some of the reasons discussed, I do not believe that the Vice President Running Mate system may always work well in our Zambian situation.

I believe the Vice President should not replace a President-Elect when the President-Elect is unable to take up position. Let the voters choose again. Some Vice Presidents may be alright as Vice President but not as President. In any case, the race is based on the Presidential candidate who comes with a known Vice President candidate.

The key candidate is the President and the Vice is subsidiary. I believe the Vice should not substitute a President-Elect that is unable to be sworn in. Many voters may not believe a Vice President candidate can necessarily be the lead presidential candidate.

The Constitutional clauses for assent in Bills 17 and 18 of 2015 were not made by the Edgar Lungu administration but were extracted from the last Constitutional draft that had open input from members of the public from various sectors.

In Constitutional clauses in earlier administrations and the recent public process, some parts are influenced by persons that are trying to affect some other persons they do not want to succeed as candidates.

Some clauses done in the Chiluba administration were considered unfair and divisive but nevertheless remained unremoved by succeeding administrations. Some had, away from the spirit and motto of One Zambia One Nation, contributed to a nation of citizens and lesser citizens.

Nothing was stopping succeeding administrations from undoing the destructive clauses planted in the Chiluba administration. Later administrations seem to have felt they would come back to the unwanted clauses later.

The Chiluba administration’s provisions contributed to some social stress that still needs to be healed. It is pleasing that the Edgar Lungu administration, through the Constitutional Amendments of 2015, acted to undo some of the divisive seeds sown by the Chiluba administration through the Constitution.

But not all is smooth. For some aspects in the recent draft constitution used as base for the 2015 Amendments will bring unnecessary difficulties. These aspects include some minimum educational qualifications for candidates for President, Vice President, and Councillor.

This will be complex and not easy to settle. Some amendments are in principle progressive and meant to help the Common Good, but may require supporting mechanisms in order to be smooth and not give problems.

It is also likely that Edgar Lungu’s haters and hard tackling opponents may question the issue of number of terms President Edgar Lungu will want to have and whether, because with his 19 months in office finishing late Michael Sata’s term, he will have in August 2016 done less than half a five year term. In the Constitution draft clauses, less than half a term is not counted as a term.

Thus Zambia’s new Constitution may require other supporting details and mechanisms to make its parts smooth, fair, and sustainable.

ginfinite@yahoo.com

Based in Lusaka, Zambia, the author is involved in writing and the arts, social development, and peace issues. He has been on the MA Peace Studies programme of University of Bradford, England.

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GCB, December 2015/January 2016

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