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Friday, 14 September 2007

Quote of the week (Charles Msiska)

Lusaka deputy mayor Charles Msiska this week explained why he was rejoining PF just two days after resigning to join the MMD after he lost the mayoral elections:

“I’m retracting what I said. The whole thing happened because of poor communication between me and my area member of parliament Dr Guy Scott. Perhaps he’s busy and I’m also too busy...If anything it’s [PF] becoming more viable. It [PF] has shown because retaining me is in itself democracy because defying party orders is very serious. I realised that there are good things even in PF. There are also good things in MMD......At the time you were interviewing me, emotions were very high, that’s why it’s not good to make decisions when you are angry.”

I believe Mr Msika is exhibiting what someone has called the politics of poverty. However, in reaching that conclusion, we also have to accept that Mr Msika actions are part and parcel of democracy - the ability to freely choose which organisation you wish to join and even the freedom to change your mind after 48 hours! The challenge for political parties, is how to build parties that are resilient in face of this politics of poverty. We have tangentially touched on these issues here.

9 comments:

  1. Cho-
    Thank you for raising this important topic. However I have a slightly different take on this -

    "we also have to accept that Mr Msika actions are part and parcel of democracy - the ability to freely choose which organisation you wish to join and even the freedom to change your mind after 48 hours! " cho

    I do not believe Mr. Msika and other party defectors in Zambia have absolute freedom to change parties and cost Zambians, their freedom to use every tax Kwacha on national development and other more worthy causes instead of wasting money on unnecessary by elections.
    See the rest of my position at http://mwakonle.blogspot.com/

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  2. Kashikulu,

    Our positions aren't actually far off!

    My approach tends to think of this question as two separate questions :)

    The first question is whether Mr Msika has a basic right within a democratic society to act as he feels, including shifting positions within 48 hours!

    The second, is whether in exercising that right he imposes some costs on society. And whether those costs are significant enough to warrant some action and what that action should be.

    On the first, I am convinced that democracy functions best when people are free to adopt whatever position they like and when they like.

    On the second, I agree that with that freedom comes potential costs to society. In economic language, Mr Msika actions generates an external cost on society - its a negative externality just pollution! The question therefore is what is that size of that external cost? And should it be significant, what can be done to address it?

    The blog monkey business touches on these issues, in the context the recent PF Nchanga MP defection. The Post identified the cost at K2bn - K3bn for a by-election. So you could argue the external cost of defections and subsquent re-elections are quite high and represents a significant misallocation of resources. So something should be done about it. My point is that in seeking solutions to address the problem, we should recognise that by nature democracy warrants free association. So perhaps our solutions should accept that and simply ensure that other measures where introduced which reduced the incentive for people to switch parties for financial reasons. What we want is to penalise the baddies but not those who want to switch for genuine reasons.

    Have a read of the monkey business blog and let me know what you think!

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  3. Cho-
    “One is whether Mr. Msika has a basic right within a democratic society to act as he feels…... I am convinced that democracy functions best when people are free to adopt whatever position they like and when they like.” Cho
    Herein lies our difference in our perspectives of the extent of a representative’s individual political freedom-
    I believe as stated that Democracy begins with the premise that majority rule is a just and efficient means for public decision-making. Majority rule is justified on two basic grounds. First, majority rule promotes "the greatest happiness for the greatest number." If a majority of 50 percent plus one is required to enact public policy, more people will enjoy self-determination than is possible under other circumstances for example if a representative were to act only on matters beneficial to his/her personal interests.
    The interests and rights of the majority are therefore supreme to the individual interests and rights of the representative.
    In this case Mr. Msika and other defectors were voted into office to represent the interest of the majority of Zambians. The interests of the majority have not changed; it is the personal interest of the representative to better their own welfare that threatens to override the interests of the majority.
    Can you imagine how disruptive to government function if the opposite happened with similar frequency i.e. if the electorate were to exercise the right to change representatives at a whim.

    The dangers of demagoguery, expropriation of majority rights and freedoms by elected leaders are more explicit and real if the individual rights of those in government are emphasized. The majority become fearful and
    participate less in public affairs. This is essentially the problem in Zambia, once elected leaders elevate their personal interests above everyone else, until it time to vote again.
    We therefore, need to ensure that the interests of the majority, are always supreme and never at risk of subjudication. Reducing the number of variables for those standing for office, is one way to achieve this.

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  4. Kashikulu,

    Perhaps there are differences!
    Let us explore where we agree and where there’s still room for more convergence.

    ”I believe as stated that Democracy begins with the premise that majority rule is a just and efficient means for public decision-making.”

    Agreed!

    ” If a majority of 50 percent plus one is required to enact public policy, more people will enjoy self-determination than is possible under other circumstances for example if a representative were to act only on matters beneficial to his/her personal interests. The interests and rights of the majority are therefore supreme to the individual interests and rights of the representative” .

    I think this can be more clearly stated.

    I have read this to mean if 51% of the population elect a Member of Parliament, genuine democracy means that that person should reflect the will of the people, and not vote according to his will. Assuming my interpretation of your position is correct, then there are indeed areas of difference. The question of whether the electoral system is democratic is divorced from the question of whether that ‘democratic system’ correctly ensures that the person who is elected reflects the will of the majority.

    ”In this case Mr. Msika and other defectors were voted into office to represent the interest of the majority of Zambians. The interests of the majority have not changed; it is the personal interest of the representative to better their own welfare that threatens to override the interests of the majority.”

    I there are several issues here:
    First, did the people vote for Msika or the party? If the people voted for Msika then the people would be content to see him switch sides. If they voted for the party then you are quite right.

    For what its worth, my position on Zambian’s voting behaviour is informed by this blog. When it comes to MPs Zambians broadly vote for the TRIBE, then PARTY and then PERSON. For local councillors the position may well be different, but I think that in our system of governance the individual has less power to influence outcome (presidential candidates aside).
    But these choices aren’t always sequential or dichotomous. Even if people voted for PF first, and then settled for Msika. It is likely that people considered Msika’s character in their assessment before they voted for him. It is therefore a rational decision. In deciding to vote for Msika, they have first decided that that they like PF and its policies and then considered whether Msika is a genuine PF. So the notion of Msika ‘changing his mind’ is not relevant at all. What is more important is whether people made an informed choice in the first.

    The onus is therefore to the individual and their parties to ensure they have an adequate candidate in place who reflects their values. This is why have a clear policy and ideological statement is important. It ensures loyalty and conveys a clear message to the electorate. Some of Zambia’s problems in terms of the politics of poverty is the failure of political parties to do proper screening of their candidates. And also the failure of the Zambian voter to make informed decisions! The system also fails because it does not provide the necessary incentives to prevent perverse and financially driven candidates from switching sides without regard for the costs they impose on others.

    The solution therefore is to explore the possibilities I have listed in the monkey business blog. But here I have expanded further by calling for improvements in information. I find myself returning to my favourite theme – we can fix a lot of things in society if we improved information and then Government played a limited role in shaping the incentives of people!

    ” The dangers of demagoguery, expropriation of majority rights and freedoms by elected leaders are more explicit and real if the individual rights of those in government are emphasized. The majority become fearful and
    participate less in public affairs.”


    It is not elevating their rights, it is recognsising that when you vote for your MP or local councillor you are voting for the party as well as the individual. Zambian voters need to start making informed decisions and the local political parties should start ‘screening their candidates’ properly.

    ”This is essentially the problem in Zambia, once elected leaders elevate their personal interests above everyone else, until it time to vote again.”

    The other point of course is that Zambians are learning. This is not a one short game. 2011 we expect Zambians to make more informed decisions than they did in 1991. The more Zambians vote, the more informed they become so over time one expects them to hold greater information and become more ready to punish those that renege from their promises.

    ”We therefore, need to ensure that the interests of the majority, are always supreme and never at risk of subjudication. Reducing the number of variables for those standing for office, is one way to achieve this.”

    Actually the society is more than the summation of individuals let alone the majority :) But that is a different topic.

    What I would say for your proposed solution is that the best way to eliminate this problem is through the follow:

    1. Improve information to the electorate – this will inevitably improve over time, but more can be done by Government and political parties to ensure that voters have access to better information on the candidates.
    2. Electoral reform along the lines proposed by Yakima in his response to monkey business
    3. Reform of other areas e.g. political funding rules
    4. Leave the responsibility to individual political parties to look at their internal structures to ensure that they have done enough screening.

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  5. "Nurses' beatings are justified" is a close contender. Roan PF MP Chishimba Kambwili is quoted to have said in Saturday's Post headline.

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  6. Fitty,

    Indeed...there are a couple of other close ones like the BBC's Sue-Lloyd Roberts comment on the Zimbabwe video report that

    "about the only growth industry in the country is funerals"....

    See the link here

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  7. ho-

    Thank you for expanding on your position, indeed there is agreement on so much.
    I read monkey business earlier and was excited by the options you conceived to remedy defections.

    The thrust of my position is what you allude to here..

    "When it comes to MPs Zambians broadly vote for the TRIBE, then PARTY and then PERSON" Cho

    These three aspects may be important factors in making electoral decisions- but do these justify the presence of so many political factions?
    I think not, it is still possible to limit the number of parties and embed the three factors in
    the candidates presented.
    The answer I agree perhaps lies in

    ..A clear policy and ideological statement is important. It ensures loyalty and conveys a clear message to the electorate”.

    The manifestoes of political factions in Zambia largely contain the same goals i.e. Enhance education, road infrastructure, health system, empower institution X and y etc. The main Ideology and its clarity of how they are going to achieve these goals are often missing or rarely explained.
    Are they going to adopt conservative or liberal thinking in addressing poverty?
    Do they intend to continue a welfare state or support private enterprise?
    Do they start, with individual or society’ rights and freedoms?
    Are they for a lean government and less taxation or big government with its huge tax burden?

    This why, I feel impressing on politicians in Zambia to discard those broad terms of distinction for more narrow, restrictive and definite terms (along with your options to stop Monkey business) would curtail the variance between the interests of the voters and the representative.

    I look forward to a time in Zambian, when issues not personalities will define elections, the storm Prof Chirwa raised on your blog, when he announced his intention to join politics in 2009 may be a beginning of that era.
    Zambians are so challenged by poverty and under development; we need to focus less on variables and quickly;

    1.Determine the most pressing issues.
    2.Adopt most the efficient means of governance.
    3.Recruit/elect the most suitable people to run government and implement national development plans.
    4.Ensure every able Zambian has an incentive and opportunity to participate in national development.

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  8. Kashikulu,

    Interesting thoughts indeed.

    The question of the plethora of political parties is interesting.

    As usual the thinking process in my mind is four stepwise approach:

    1. Is there such a thing as having too many political parties? In other words, are there some disbenefits to society of having lots of parties, and do those disbenefits outweigh any potential benefits?

    2. If indeed there's such a thing as "too many", then the next question is - Does Zambia have 'too many'? In other words, we may agree that too many parties are bad for the nation, but the real question is whether that is the case for the nation like Zambia? [aim here is to recognise that Zambia is Zambia and not Iraq or the UK]

    3. If the answer in (2) is yes, then comes the next question - Why are there too many political parties in Zambia?

    4. And finally, having learnt from (3), we must now ask what can be done about?

    Turning to the questions:

    On 1, I think that in broad terms having many parties is actually a good thing, since it allows greater choice. Choice is good and provide the voter can make rational and well informed decisions that all is well. But I am not familiar with the literature in this area to know whether having many parties can cause some distortions. I suspect there's something about the electoral system as well that has a bearing on that. And of course it depends on things like whether political funding exists or not.

    On 2, the question of whether it bad for Zambia - is an interesting one. Assuming that more parties mean more electoral competition then it could actually be good. But more parties could just mean more strategic games. MMD can for example creating lots of smaller parties just to thwart the opposition and vice versa. I would say that at the moment the number of parties in Zambia are too many! There's a lot of inefficiency in the system!

    On 3, the question is therefore why does Zambia have too many parties? I think the reason is simply a weak constitution, lack of ideas, uninformed electorate, and weak thresholds on forming parties. And as Yakima noted there's also something about our voting system that allows people to secure votes on tribal grounds. This is a recipe for multiple parties. The only suprise in Zambia is that we don't have 72 parties to match 72 dialects! Reforming the electoral system is therefore critical in reducing the incidence of multiple parties.

    On 4, so what are the options we could explore to reduce the number of parties? I think the options fall in two categories - those that encourage things to take place naturally but quicken the pace or those that ensure strong measures.

    In category one - the idea is accepting that forming parties is part and parcel of good politicking. People should feel free to form parties. So the aim is simply to find ways in which the electoral system forces people to group together e.g. through reforming the system, setting minimum thresholds for parties to obtain some form of political funding (fiscal incentives - which I oppose by the way). Another way is to improve information and make voters more knowledgeable so they make the plethora of parties of less consquence. The other is to encourage the development of think tanks to support parties.

    In category two - there much stiffer penalties. So you could for example say, that if a party fails to secure electoral seats in the next election, it gets de-registered!!

    Now that would be a serious reason for them to sit down!!

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  9. Kashikulu,

    4.Ensure every able Zambian has an incentive and opportunity to participate in national development.

    All these points are excellent, but in the context of the recent emphasis on national development, this point is especially significant.

    For too long, the people making policy have thought they could have development while leaving out the ordinary citizen. People, when empowered with some capital or ownership, can be the nation's major asset, as they are in the US, where 2/3 of GDP comes from ordinary consumers.

    ReplyDelete

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