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Monday, 3 September 2007

Monkey business….

The Sunday Post editorial has an interesting commentary on the costs of bye-elections following a recent defection by a certain PF MP to the ruling party.

Money that could be used to improve our health and education services, our road and rail network and other infrastructure is unnecessarily and unjustifiably being spent on by-elections. We are told that the cost for a parliamentary by-election cost the taxpayer between two and three billion kwacha.

It is certainly not being responsible for our politicians to jump from one party to another, causing unnecessary and unjustifiable by-elections that cost the taxpayer billions of kwacha.

There is need for us to try to understand why our multiparty political system has become a circus, a zoo where politicians are jumping from one party to the other with so much ease like monkeys jumping from one branch or tree to another. It is evident that our politics is not premised on any principles; our political parties have no clear outlooks or characteristics other than tribal, regional that truly define them.

I certainly agree that bye-elections are costly to society since they misallocate resources that could be usefully employed elsewhere. I question though where the K3bn figure comes from. But assuming that it is correct and actually represent a real cost to society, then we must ask the obvious question : how do we minimise the costs of potential bye-elections?

The answer certainly is not through the dedicated fellow hypothesis’ as the Post Editorial intimates. The idea that somehow we can ‘hope’ for principled leaders to emerge in a realm full of poverty and inadequate institutions is perhaps outside the boundaries of natural logic. Parliamentarians like everyone else respond to incentives. The ‘monkey business’ suggested by the Post editorial happens because of weak incentives in our electoral system that does not penalise people who cross the floor for financial gain. We must therefore fix these weak incentives.

In fact I would go further by saying that any new solution must generate the following outcomes:
  1. Dissuade MPs from switching sides just for personal financial gain.
  2. Minimise the possibility of punishing those who switch for genuine reasons and maximise the possibility of punishing those who switch for personal gain.
  3. Ensure that the people who elected the chap are not penalised – the emphasis is to ‘punish’ the wrong doers i.e. the chap who switches the party incorrectly not people who elected him!

So with these three outcomes in mind. What options do we have on the table? I can at least think of four options we could start to explore. I am not sure they all fulfill the three outcomes, but they represent a start - and may be out of these we can develop a better solution. So here you go:

Option 1: eliminate bye-elections completely in the event of defections – if someone defects the seat becomes vacant. That way the people directly ‘hunt’ the defector down. The fear of the mob should be enough incentive to dissuade individuals from switching sides without strong moral persuasion. So hopefully no one ever defects.

Option 2: eliminate bye-elections but this time round the seat remains with the Party. In this case, PF gets to keep the seat and choose whoever they like without going through the voting process.

Option 3: allow bye-elections but never let the chap who switches side ever contest the seat again. Unlike Option 1, where if the chap successfully avoided the mob anger he /she can contest again, with this option, the chap never gets to see the light of day in Parliament.

Option 4: allow bye-elections but never let the chap contest the seat again for the duration of that parliament.

12 comments:

  1. The idea that somehow we can ‘hope’ for principled leaders to emerge in a realm full of poverty and inadequate institutions is perhaps outside the boundaries of natural logic.

    I think the one thing people again and again fail to understand, is that it are systems and processes that create these specific outcomes.

    For instance, the fact that someone can found their own party, declares himself president of that party, and then has to run for president of the country, creates a host of experienced politicians with egos the size of houses.

    This is further compounded by a lack of systems and checks and balances when they take power, as well as the fact that so much power has been drawn into the office of the president.

    In fact I would go further by saying that any new solution must generate the following outcomes:

    1. Dissuade MPs from switching sides just for personal financial gain.
    2. Minimise the possibility of punishing those who switch for genuine reasons and maximise the possibility of punishing those who switch for personal gain.
    3. Ensure that the people who elected the chap are not penalised – the emphasis is to ‘punish’ the wrong doers i.e. the chap who switches the party incorrectly not people who elected him!


    I would add to that:

    4. Take seriously the party's platform.

    Parties should have a clear (arbitrarily put, 10 point) platform, that should distinguish them from any other party.

    They should declare whether they are economically or socially conservative or libertarian. They should have a clearly stated philosophical position, and list the policy prescriptions that go with them. There should be some way to check whether they implement their policy prescriptions. In other words, politics should become about governance again, instead of about personalities.

    Right now, no party would survive without it's leader. The UPND should have been called the Mazoka party, the rest the Sata Party, the Tembo Party, the Mwanawasa Party.

    Within this system, leaders cannot safely groom their successors, without looking over their shoulder all the time.

    Remember how when Mwanawasa was on one of his trips, Vice President Nevers Mumba took the opportunity to start making his own policy claims? That was the end of Mumba in the MMD, as well as the position of Vice President.

    What there is right now, is multi-party democracy in a two-party system. This is a recipe for irrelevant parties. In other two party systems, what you see is both parties are very broad churches that have lots of different currents included within it. In other words, whatever political or personality differences there are, they are fought out within the larger party.

    Within the Republican party, you have evangelists, corporate interests, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives who are socially liberal or libertarian, etc. Within the Democratic party, you have corporatists (Clinton, Byden), environmentalists (Nader), humanists (Kucinich) and more.

    In Zambia, there is a parliamentary system with a very powerful president, who is the head of his party, the head of the government and the head of state. Usually, those roles are split up between different individuals.

    In the UK, there is a clear difference between the head of state (the queen) and the head of the government (the prime minister). Of course, Zambia used to have a prime minister like in the French system, but the position was gotten rid of by the president. As have been the Vice President positions.

    But at the core of it is the importance of the ministerial system of government. All money either flows through the ministries or ends up there. If the money was directly spent at a local government level, and local government was democratically elected, a lot of problems would be sidestepped.

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  2. ”I think the one thing people again and again fail to understand, is that it are systems and processes that create these specific outcomes.”

    Absolutely! But I think it is cultural. You know Zambia is founded on a lot of goodness! We believe a lot in the goodness of human. We believe that a good person can alter the destiny of an entire nation! Which is fine. But what happens when 99 other baddies are waiting in the wings? So I think it is cultural thing, and partly an ignorance thing. But I also think it is a legacy of the one party era, when the Our Dear Leader mattered more than the nation! He was the law on which all were to be judged by.

    ”For instance, the fact that someone can found their own party, declares himself president of that party, and then has to run for president of the country, creates a host of experienced politicians with egos the size of houses. “

    lol!!!!

    ” I would add to that:

    Take seriously the party's platform. “


    How do you ensure that happens????
    Do we need to do something to the electoral system to bring about that change? Proportional representation? Would that ensure the adequate realignment of politicians with their parties? But PR has some downsides as well!


    ”Remember how when Mwanawasa was on one of his trips, Vice President Nevers Mumba took the opportunity to start making his own policy claims? That was the end of Mumba in the MMD, as well as the position of Vice President.”

    I was in Zambia at the time. I was on the same plane from London with the President when arrived in Zambia – he came out and Mumba welcomed him with women dancing and some party cadres. He was very happy to see the President only to be fired soon after - actually he was also publicly chastised at the airport if I remember correctly with Mumba listening. It was incredible. But that one is difficult to assess. Mumba did make some strange comments on the DRC issue. I guess in the West that was not really an incident a person should get fired over! But Zambian democracy is not British democracy!

    ”In Zambia, there is a parliamentary system with a very powerful president, who is the head of his party, the head of the government and the head of state. Usually, those roles are split up between different individuals.”

    I think if you had a strong legislature and judiciary it would not matter so much. These two branches of Government need strengthening.

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  3. Take seriously the party's platform. “ - MrK

    How do you ensure that happens???? - Cho

    For instance, it would be great if the parties had to spell out their philosophy, list what they wanted to change and the policy decisions that go with them.

    That way an election would also be a kind of referendum on policy.

    There could also be a limit on the number of policy points they put in their manifestos. Something limited to what they can actually do when in office.

    I think if you had a strong legislature and judiciary it would not matter so much. These two branches of Government need strengthening. - Cho

    I think all branches of government need strengthening - parliament, the civil service, all need greater independence from presidential or political control, respectively.

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  4. Cho,

    Option 5: Under the electoral provisions of the draft constitution (at least the version we have been able to access at this point), a significant portion of MPs are selected via party lists. Therefore, one option in the case of defections for such MPs would be to assign the seat to the next listed candidate for the duration of the term. This would also allow directly elected MPs to be more accountable to their constituent voters than to party leadership, enabling Option 1 to be employed in such cases. No bye-elections necessary, however all defections are checked by the appropriate nominating body.

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  5. ”There could also be a limit on the number of policy points they put in their manifestos. Something limited to what they can actually do when in office.” - MrK

    Not sure how you would implement that.
    Most party do not even follow their manifestos.
    Also the problem might be the quality of the manifestos.

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  6. Yakima,

    Interesting option!
    The current draft proposal allow for some element of PR.
    Questions remain whether it will survive the NCC!

    And certainly the PR would eliminate the problem. But presumably that comes with downsides? The Mungomba draft is a hybrid PR – some are directly elected by people some are PR. Assuming the directly elected candidate resigns, people would lose the connection with the MP or are no longer able to exercise a choice? In other words, does your suggestion penalise the electorate by landing with candidate not of their choice?
    I guess we would have to hope that the PR replacement is a sufficient incentive to dissuade the MP from switching sides in the first place!!

    By the way, there’s an implicit assumption in your preference for Option 5 and PR in general – that people elect parties not individual MPs. Not sure that is actually the case in developed countries, but I have a working hypothesis that may well be true in developing nations. My theory is that in poor nations with weak institutional structures people place their faith in blocks to bring about change. This is certainly the case at general elections when you are trying to determine who will govern for the next five years. The individual MP really cannot bring about the change he or she desires. So people vote expecting that others will vote like them or rather vote in a way that minimises their vote being wasted across the board. There’s some evidence on this from some academic work. See the blog for some evidence on voting behaviour in Zambia during the last election:

    http://zambian-economist.blogspot.com/2007/06/tribal-zambians.html

    The blog also forms my basis for another assertion that in Zambia voting behaviour for MPs is through sequences. People first vote for the TRIBE, then for the PARTY, then for the PERSON.

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  7. Cho,

    Thanks for the questions, not only because they force me to admit that I don't really personally favour the draft language splitting the electoral code to include both directly contested parliamentary seats and proportional representation by party list. My research into the area of structural incentives which encourage contestable elections and avoid entrenched incumbency (and associated corruption risks) tends to indicate that direct, winner-takes-all electoral codes are less preferable than systems which allocate seats proportionally. If it were up to me, I think I would eliminate the geographic divisions imposed on the electorate entirely, and allocate parliamentary representation as proportionally to individual voter preferences as closely as possible.

    I see no good reason why 51% of voters in a given district are entitled to more than 2% greater representation than the other 49%, yet this is precisely what single seat, district based electoral codes are implementing (blame Hobbes I suppose). Representation should not be auctioned off, supposedly it is a basic right. As indicated by Cox in Making Votes Count, Zambia's current adherence to this US-style of representation has already been rejected by the vast majority of democratic states as less than optimal, in favour of constitutional systems which allow for proportional representation of all majority and minority parties. There were many good historical and logistical reasons why the original American electoral system was implemented as such, however the failure to successfully reform in the face of historical and logistical developments causes the American voters to become increasingly under- and mis-represented by their legislature. This in turn places undue emphasis on the executive branch to be responsive to public pressures, and subsequent centralization of power. In that context, it is not surprising to me that the Zambian mirror of that electoral process has continually produced relatively unchecked executive branch corruption.

    The draft constitutional provisions which introduce proportional representation by party candidate lists presuppose that concerns over geographic representation will be addressed at the party level, and eligibility requirements for the registration of parties include the necessity of maintaining publicly accessible office facilities in at least half of all provinces. A shift to a fully PR system should probably insist on amending that to half of all districts. Any public funding of political party activities might best be allocated directly to the establishment and/or operation of such facilities.

    Local district governments would then be more directly responsible for representing voters on geographic issues, and may have more in common with the upper than lower house of parliament in practice. The lower house will be contested between parties, each trying to directly represent their proportion of individual voters without explicit reference to geographic location. Upper house contests, due to the nature of Zambian Tribal rights and demographic distribution, are likely to place a high value on geographic distribution of resources. The "boundaries" of tribal and lingual association can be more democratically accurate than simple geography when scale-model direct democracy is applied in the parliamentary model. That current voters attempt to leverage district representation along tribal lines as a first resort is therefore not surprising.

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  8. Here is my take on PR versus FPTP (First Past The Post).

    1) FPTP creates far more decisive government. Votes are counted on a local level, after which a district puts forward a representative/MP to sit in the national parliament. Electoral outcomes are clear and swift. One party or the other has the most MPs, or it doesn't.

    2) PR has a far greater democratic content, because all votes are counted on a national level. Seats in parliament are divided up by the percentage of the vote that a party recieved. It creates coalition governments, which means there has to be compromise on the issues, while at the same time the population is often baffled by who is in government, as this is worked out between the parties themselves. They create working majorities that are reflective of the national vote.

    The question is - what does Zambia actually need?

    I think Zambia needs a national policy or national governance that is unrelentingly devoted to development, no matter who is in power.

    Which by the way is what Singapore, South Korea and more had - really a dictatorship, but one that was there for decades, while at the same seeing the need for development.

    Some kind of permanent structure.

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  9. Yakima,

    If I understand your proposed model:
    A 100% PR system, and to handle the fact that MPs would no longer have a “local connection”, you would reinforce the role of local Government (greater decentralisation coupled with Participatory Budgeting ?). And to link the local to national vision, you would reinforce the second chamber – along the way meeting my vision for a culturally centred approach to development!
    I am impressed!

    Now if I may just explore the PR system in order to ensure that all corners are covered. How do we deal with the fact that PR systems produce highly unstable Government? Israel is a prime example. Unstable Governments are bad for growth for reasons well know reasons. What provisions would we need in the draft constitution to handle that?
    With power currently concentrate in the hands of the President, instability could be even more damaging for nationhood.

    The other issue is that there’s an implied assumption in your useful assessment that large majorities created through PR would be protected from perpetual incumbency. I thought you could explore this further. It seems to me that in whatever way a larger majority assumes power (de-facto), it can use that larger majority to change certain areas of Government that would ensure that it remains in power e.g. it could alter the way political funding is done and so forth. This raises some interesting questions for me. How fundamental is the PR in altering the structural incentives that delivers contestability compared to other reforms? Is PR reform sufficient to ensure perpetual contestability? If not, are we then trying to fix the symptom or the disease? I am also wondering where social and cultural norms fit into all this?

    There’s also the other question of the advantages of perpetual incumbency. So far we have assumed that it is undesirable. But what about the advantages it brings e.g. removal of electoral spending cycles?

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  10. Cho,

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, I also see potential synergies between many of the ideas brought up in previous discussions. The webbed nature of the problems can be turned to advantage with mutually reinforcing reform solutions. I appreciate your attention to covering corners, and I will try not to stretch the fabric too far in any one direction accordingly. There are doubtless other reforms which, when woven into the pattern, will strengthen the model further.

    Some of your questions concern the seemingly mutually exclusive potentials for either instability or entrenched incumbency. Without trying to sound flippant, it is the opposing pulls of these two factors which tend to stretch the fabric of the model over both corners. Incumbency can be desirable, when it accurately reflects the will of the electorate, and PR can serve to preserve incumbents in proportion to approval of their prior actions (with party apparatus inserted into the middle with its own effects). Instability is likewise desirable where it unseats incumbents who are without genuine support. PR systems do tend to emphasize competition between parties over voters interested in "change", however not to the same extent as FPTP. I suspect that to a large degree this emphasis is due to fundamental game theory, and thus reform can only reduce, not eliminate the tendency to concentrate on "swing" voters with resulting instability.

    List systems, such as the one proposed in the draft constitution, tend to promote a degree of "regional" incumbency. Parties which do not preserve a broad regional representation at the top of their list are likely to alienate significant constituencies. This will only serve individual incumbents to the degree that they can sway loyal voting blocs. Despite the increased "overhead" cost of maintaining broad regional representation, PR List systems overall tend to promote viability of three or more competitive parties, and thus less stable executives presiding over coalition majorities. In combination with supermajority requirements for amendment of key constitutional provisions, such as those governing electoral processes, this tendency toward coalition will prevent temporary majorities from entrenching through unbalanced reform.

    Social and cultural norms enter into the PR lower house electoral process at the level of the individual, to the extent that they form the basis for his or her voting decisions, and at the level of the party, to the extent that the party's internal structure or campaign platform reflects specific concessions to any portion of the voter ideological spectrum. Representation in the upper house is more likely to reflect the traditional norms of Tribes individually and collectively, and can counterbalance and moderate the tendencies of the lower house toward expediency. Populist instability in the lower house can be further insulated against by strong inclusion of traditional structures in local governance and participatory budgeting for resource allocation to service and enterprise development.

    I cannot say for certain how much of the historical disparity is due to PR's virtues or FPTP's faults in promoting contestability and minority representation. PR systems certainly seem to promote more contestability, and in that sense substituting PR for FPTP can be seen as attending more to cause rather than symptom. To strive toward perpetual contestability will require additional reforms such as supermajority and/or multiple house majority requirements for amendment, independence and strengthened meritocracy in judicial and civil service delivery and oversight of government services, and inclusion of participatory budgeting by local authorities with traditionally consistent power structures.

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  11. Yakima,

    I certainly think the measures you propose to ensure 'perpetual contestability' within the proposed model are robust.

    The other point of course relates to 'insurance' that we see in most PR systems at the top - PR systems tend to divorce the Head of Government from the Head of State. Zambia does not have that. But I think given the measures that you listed, perhaps that divorce of power is unnecessary.

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  12. The PF seems to be leaning towards Option 4 - but much heavier penalty.

    "And Sata has said PF would submit before the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) that members of parliament and councilors who resign from their parties on flimsy grounds are barred from contesting elections for a period of 10 years".

    Source: The Post (10th Sept 2007)
    I have uploaded the article here.

    Not sure how you establish 'flimsy' defections. We would have to wait and see, but I would much rather see something of model we have been discussing. Unfortunately, I don't think NCC representatives are thinking hard about this issue.

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