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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Chiefs as Members of Parliament? (Guest Blog)

I wish to comment on the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) legislative committee’s proposal to increase seats for Members of Parliament (MPs) to 250 by increasing the number of constituencies and nominating chiefs and other non-elected members of society to Parliament.

Such a costly proposal is misplaced and ill-conceived considering the fact that it is coming at a time when tens of thousands of Grade 7 and Grade 9 students have continued to be spilled onto the streets every year, the healthcare system cannot meet the basic needs of the majority of citizens, the majority of Zambians have no access to clean water and electricity, a critical shortage of decent public housing has compelled so many of our fellow citizens to live in shanty townships nationwide, public infrastructure and services are still deficient, civil servants are still not adequately compensated for their services, crime and unemployment are still widespread, and, among many other socio-economic ills, taxes and interest rates are still high.

There is really no wisdom in seeking to increase the number of constituencies, for example, when some of the existing constituencies cannot even generate enough tax revenue to meet the cost of maintaining their MPs.

Rather than increase the number of MPs, we should actually be considering the prospect of reducing the number and restricting their functions to legislative matters. Parliament would still be representative and able to function effectively as the legislative organ of our national government with only 72 elected MPs, for example – so that 1 MP could be elected from each of the existing 72 districts. Also, the Republican president does not really need to nominate 8 people to the National Assembly. Why not 5 or less? And why does the Republican president really need to nominate anybody to Parliament?

MPs should not be involved in the implementation of development projects; this should be the function of government ministries and local authorities. Besides, the provinces are already saturated with such portfolios as District Commissioners, Provincial Ministers and Provincial Permanent Secretaries, all of which are supposed to complement the executive branch of the government in the implementation of development projects. We need to restrict the role of Parliament to legislative functions – that is, law-making.

Chieftains, for example, belong to constituencies which are represented in Parliament by elected MPs and are, therefore, already represented by such MPs. Besides, it is important to maintain the membership in Parliament for elected politicians who are directly accountable to the people who elect them. Nominated MPs would, by and large, pay their allegiance to whoever nominates them to Parliament and potentially create opportunities for cronyism in Parliament.

Further, there is great potential for problems relating to the nomination of a handful of chieftains from 283 existing chieftains. The criteria for nominating a handful of chieftains or members of interest groups are likely to cause discord among those who may be left out in the process.

There is a need to avoid getting non-elected citizens into Parliament for the purpose of buying favors from them in a calculated attempt by a handful of MMD members who are in the NCC to maintain their party’s hold on power. The subsidies, electrification of palaces, the car loans, and now the nominations to Parliament! What is really happening?

Besides, President Rupiah Banda and Vice-President George Kunda need to initiate, by Executive Order, the removal of public assistance to chiefs from the office of the Republican president and placed under the aegis of the Parliamentary Committee on Local Governance, Housing and Chiefs’ Affairs in order to forestall any suspicions that assistance to chiefs is designed to woo their support during elections – including the provision for chiefs’ subsidies, electrification of chiefs’ palaces, the purchasing of motor vehicles for chiefs, and any other matters relating to the welfare of chiefs.

Chiefs and Partisan Politics:

Moreover, there is a need to uphold Articles 65 (clauses 3 and 4) and 129 of the 1996 Republican constitution, which bar chieftains from participating in or joining partisan politics unless they formally abdicate their traditional leadership roles. If they are allowed to participate in partisan politics, they can consciously or otherwise abuse the absolute traditional authority they wield by imposing their political views and choices on their subjects – a situation which can lead to tribal politics in our country.

We need to prevent such a situation from happening if we are really serious about nurturing our nascent democracy.

Traditional leaders’ participation in politics can also lead to disunity in, and disintegration of, their chiefdoms. Let us consider a number of scenarios which can culminate in such a situation. First, a chieftain is, ideally, an impartial leader of all the people in his or her chiefdom regardless of their political affiliations. However, his or her participation in partisan politics can inevitably place him or her in an adversarial position against subjects who may have different political alignments.

Second, the political arena naturally requires participants to advocate certain causes and articulate their ideological convictions which, for a traditional leader, are likely to be at variance with the causes and convictions of some of his or her subjects. Third, partisan politics is fraught with slander, snobbery and discourtesies to which traditional leaders can choose to subject themselves only at the immense cost of losing the abounding and unconditional respect accorded to them by their subjects.

Further, chieftains’ participation in active politics can frustrate efforts aimed at creating a level playing field for all political contestants, since they (the chieftains) already have a faithful following in their areas of jurisdiction.

We would do well to redress the deep-rooted scourges of election-rigging, vote-buying and access to public resources by a ruling political party without opening up other avenues for unfair political advantage.

The chiefs’ subsidies, electrification of their palaces, the car loans for chiefs, and the proposal to nominate chiefs to Parliament are also likely to lead to bloody succession battles as members of chiefs' families seek to be handed the throne in order to gain access to such benefits. As it is often said, prevention is better than cure!

Chief Puta and Partisan Politics:

In an article entitled “Rupiah Won’t Go Anywhere with ‘Terrorists’ – Puta,” which appeared in The Post newspaper of My 5, 2009, Chief Puta is quoted by Patson Chilemba as having said that President Rupiah Banda should rid himself of people like Mulongoti and Tetamashimba because of their comments concerning Katele Kalumba, who has been found with a case to answer for alleged corruption.

He is also quoted as having said that he would instruct his subjects to start throwing stones against the government if government leaders push him too hard, and that he would tell his people to de-campaign President Banda. Well, he also revealed that he campaigned for President Banda during the 2008 presidential by-election!

Since independence in October 1964, there have been complaints and sentiments from some segments of Zambian society about the use of traditional leaders by ruling political parties to gain political advantage, particularly during political campaigns. There is a need to put an end to the use of chiefs in political campaigns.

The revelation that chieftains in the Eastern province were consulted in the process of picking an MMD candidate for the Milanzi by-election last year is another case in point.

If we are not careful, we could be paving the way for anarchy in our 283 chiefdoms by pushing chieftains into the political arena. We could be planting the seeds of destruction for the Zambian nation, and for our nascent democracy. We could be starting a vicious fire for our children and grandchildren to extinguish – and they will not judge us kindly if we leave them a country that will be in flames!

Henry Kyambalesa (Guest Blogger)
Agenda for Change


  1. Well said Professor Kyambalesa, very well said indeed! The process of Constitutional reformation will have the greatest lasting success by maintaining a focus on setting the rules of future political engagement between democratic equals, rather than the buttressing of existing coalitions of power with enshrinement of special political "rights" and privileges. Especially if such privileges are distributed in a way likely to create reciprocal "responsibilities" for the recipients to demonstrate a blind loyalty to the appointing power.

    I fully agree that simply increasing the number of MPs would do nothing to guarantee that voters would be better represented in Parliament. This is especially true for voters whose most recent preference for the Executive did not win the Presidency. I feel that it is important to remember that the way elections and Parliamentary votes are structured, it is not the number of votes in favour of a candidate or proposal that matters, but the percentage of votes. In mathematical terms, any time the elected President is permitted to appoint persons to Parliament of whatever size, the effective power of voters who supported them is increased, and that of the voters who did not get their preference at the national level but did get their choice for MP is proportionately decreased.

    This creates three classes of voter, each with their own personal degree of representative power within Parliament. For example, in a 100 seat Parliament without presidential appointees, let us assume 4 parties successful in winning seats (A,B,C and D), with a wide distribution of 50-30-15-5 seats respectively. Given consistent bloc voting by MPs (reasonable I think given recent public reactions by all parties with regard to "rebellious members"), then a voter for party A, whether or not their local candidate won election, is represented by 10 times the MPs as a voter for party D. Ideally this would indicate that there are 10 times as many people who voted for A as did for D, but since MPs are elected by geographical district there is variance from this ratio. Of course representation is not the same thing as agreeing with the actual content of Parliamentary decisions, even if a voter's party of choice won zero MPs they may still agree with a given law, and it is likely that voters for minority parties will often disagree with a given law.

    As a contrasting example, if the number of elected MPs is doubled to 200, and the elected President is permitted to appoint a further 50 MPs, and four parties win the same percentage distribution of seats (100-60-30-10), then voters for the President's party receive a large boost to their individual share of Parliamentary power. Again given consistent party blocs, the Presidency will almost always go to party A, unless geographical district boundaries are drawn with highly uneven degrees of local party majority (e.g. districts go to party A with 51% of votes, while districts go to party B with 90% of votes). The additional presidential appointments thus would give voters for party A 15 times the representation as voters for party D, even though party D represents the same number of voters, and holds double the actual number of seats than in the first example. A large enough percentage of appointed seats can effectively turn a president into a prime minister, with a guaranteed legislative majority, yet without the degree of grassroots political support and/or coalition building required of successful prime ministers under most such frameworks, nor the prospect of binding "votes of confidence" limiting executive terms of office.

    Indeed even for members of those demographic groups which some seek to guarantee representation through designated appointees, such a prospect can have rather chilling consequences. What guarantee does such a voter have that the individual chosen by the President will be representative of their personal political aims or needs? Should we assume that the majority of voters from all such demographics are unrepresented by any party through elected MPs? Otherwise such appointments are simply a way of elevating the representation of that portion of the group who supported the President at the expense of those who did not. Even if the membership of such a group were to elect their own leaders from amongst themselves, there is no guarantee that the President would appoint them instead of someone else. Far from guaranteeing that a minority demographic group is heard in Parliament, this process would effectively deny many such individuals their due share of representation in favour of the will of the majority of the whole voting population (i.e. those who voted for the President).

    I think that it would be interesting to explore the possibility of improving representative accuracy through reform of geographically based election procedures hand in hand with decentralisation of power to local authorities. If the goal of national government is to represent the greatest percentage of voters with the greatest accuracy, then there are far better ways to achieve this than by Presidential appointments. Examples of proportional voting systems, preferential voting systems, and at-large national or regional election of multiple representatives have or are being tried by populations around the world. Changing the way MPs are elected might aid in, "restricting their functions to legislative matters," as you suggest. If it was clear from the constitutional election framework that each MP represented individual voters from a potentially wide number of districts, then the appropriate governmental body or bodies to take decisions on a national or regional basis would be clearer, and presumably strengthening and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of provincial and district governments easier thereby. It defies common sense to expect the choice of the majority to effectively secure representation for minorities of any description.

  2. HK,

    We are in total agreement on the need for smaller government and opposition to the NCC proposal to more MPs.

    On chiefs, I think we need to distinguish between NCC "nomination" proposal and the "general principle of chiefs participating" in politics.

    The NCC proposal is certain flawed. But I do think there are many positive reasons for allowing Chiefs to COMPETE for local seats. Yes, they are downsides as well, but the key to discuss the principle and then look at whether the status quo merits reform.

    The chaps at the NCC have got muddled again.

    I am currently writing a post on this as part of the on-going BLOG SPECIALS on TRADITIONAL AUTHORITIES at the HOUSE OF CHIEFS BLOG.

    Should be up by the end of the week.

  3. "And why does the Republican president really need to nominate anybody to Parliament?A very good question; and these are some of the fundamentals that the NCC should have been looking at if there was a real effort to reduce Presidential powers.

  4. Zedian,
    Allowing the President to appoint a small number of MPs is not necessarily a bad move. It allows the President to call upon people from outside the political establishment to be Ministers. Without such powers, Magande would never have been Finance Minister. Having said that, the system has been abused by the MMD by using is to recycle discredited individuals like VJ.

    The PANEL

  5. The Panel,

    Another fundamental issue with this arose when we had an unelected person, with no mandate from the people whatsoever, leading the country after the 'unexpected' demise of LPM.

    I have objections to that.

    Also, eight is a huge figure and can easily be used to sway votes on important decisions in the National Assembly in favour of the incumbent.

    Why not 3,4, even 5?

  6. How about this model:

    1) MPs are elected to represent local constituencies in the debate on national policy, so there is some representation of local interests reflected in national policy.

    2) Local councillors are elected, but they receive 50% of the national budget to provide basic services and solve local issues. Decentralization and subsidiarity will increase the maximum responsiveness to popular demand and local issues.

    3) Chiefs represent traditional authority, and have a ceremonial role in local government, the same way the Monarchs of Europe have a ceremonial role in government, while being the actual head of state, but with very limited powers. In Europe, kings and queens are the heads of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of the government, something that is combined in Zambia and the US into the same role, where the President is both the head of state and the head of government.

    That would I think maximize both traditional authority and democratic accountability, which is always the problem with including unelected individuals in government.

    Chiefs could provide limited checks on local government, rather than be feted in parliament (is a shortage . of MPs really the problem?). In fact, a greater role of checks and balances and depoliticisation should be strived for.

  7. Zedian wrote ..
    "Another fundamental issue with this arose when we had an unelected person, with no mandate from the people whatsoever, leading the country after the 'unexpected' demise of LPM."

    That in itself is not a problem. Gerald Ford became VP and president without facing any elections.
    The problem we have in Zambia is that the whole system is rotten. LPM appointed RB not because he thought there was something he could bring to the table but because he had delivered Eastern Province to the MMD. Also LPM did not trust top officials in the MMD to occupy the second most important position in the country (remember Nevers Mumba was catapulted in to the MMD to facilitate his appointment as VP).

    The PANEL

  8. The Panel,

    Gerald Ford was an elected member of the House of Representatives before his appointment. RB was not an elected member at the time of his appointment as VP.

    In my view there's a huge amount of legitimacy thrown behind a person if they've got some mandate from the people as opposed to one without any whatsoever.

    As you know, in the UK the members of the House of Lords are not elected and this usually comes up especially when they disagree with proposed policies from the lower house. That's when we hear statement like "My Lords, this unelected house has no right to..."It's not overly significant in the UK but nonetheless it echoes that underlying principle of a mandate from the people, or lack their of. It probably explains why the House of Lords can only delay legislation, not prevent it altogether.

    I'm unconvinced that the need to have qualified people in govt should supersede or override in any way the need to have them elected, as you alluded to earlier about Magande.

    I have no problem with some senior civil servants being appointed, but appointments to Parliament or Cabinet do not strike a cord with democracy in my opinion. Appointments to Cabinet should only come from amongst MPs.

    That would make a more perfect democracy, in my view.

  9. Cho,

    Civil servants and government officials are required to relinquish their positions before they can vie for elective political positions. I do not see anything wrong with barring chieftains from participating in or joining partisan politics unless they formally abdicate their traditional leadership roles.

    By the way, would they still claim entitlements provided for them by the government if they were to contest local seats without first abdicating their traditional leadership roles? And how would the fears I have cited above concerning chiefs' participation in the political arena be overcome?


    I have reservations about your statement that appointments to Cabinet should only come from amongst MPs.

    I support the commonsense proviso in Article 152(1) of the Mung'omba Constitutional Review Commission's draft constitution on this issue, which states that: "Ministers shall be appointed by the President from among persons qualified to be elected as members of the National Assembly, but are not members of the National Assembly."

    This recommendation was made by the CRC upon a review of submissions by citizens nationwide, and it is important for several reasons. Firstly, Cabinet-level appointments from the Zambian society at large can afford a Republican president a larger pool of competent people from which he or she can constitute a Cabinet. Secondly, it can provide for greater separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

    Thirdly, it can afford presidential aspirants enough time to identify potential ministerial appointees well before tripartite elections rather than waiting for parliamentary elections to be concluded. Further, it would reduce the work overload on government officials who have to handle both ministerial and parliamentary functions.

    The 1996 constitutional proviso concerning the appointment of Cabinet Ministers from among Members of Parliament seems to be aimed at according greater control of the legislative arm of the government by the executive President through Ministers, and protecting the President from impeachment.

    In this regard, McDonald Chipenzi (in an article that appeared in The Post newspaper of February 26, 2005 entitled "Govt Rejects Recommendation by ERTC to Reduce Voting Age") has quoted Ms. Mutale Nalumango as having said that the government rejected the recommendation to appoint Cabinet ministers from outside parliament, saying doing so would put the President in a precarious position because he or she would have no control over parliament and, in the case of an impeachment motion, he or she would be vulnerable.

  10. HK,

    I tend to agree with the point on the separation of powers between the Legislature and the Executive. There may be stronger arguments against your other points.

  11. HK,

    "Civil servants and government officials are required to relinquish their positions before they can vie for elective political positions. I do not see anything wrong with barring chieftains from participating in or joining partisan politics unless they formally abdicate their traditional leadership roles."But His Royal Highness Senior Chief Kapalaula has advocated that such decisions should be made by the tribal councils. I find much merit in his reasoning.

    See - The Politics in Chief"By the way, would they still claim entitlements provided for them by the government if they were to contest local seats without first abdicating their traditional leadership roles?"I see your logic, but chiefs have no public servant role in Zambia. They receive subsidies at the discretion of the presidents. The constitution's definition of chiefs is very clear. They are simply a corporate entity with villagers as members, capable of suing and being sued. See Chiefs and the Law in Independent Zambia

    The entitlements they receive are just a feature of political engineering. as ably argued by Simutanyi - see Chiefs, car loans and constitution"And how would the fears I have cited above concerning chiefs' participation in the political arena be overcome?"Good question! I think these are genuine fears and require much thought. I am current writing a series of posts on this on the House of Chiefs. What I would say is that Chiefs have historically stood as MPs. So they are certainly capable. What we need is a full review of the Chieftaincy within the political and economic institutions. It might be that barring them is the way forward if they serve a more and better purpose elsewhere as a check on corrupt political elites. We need a Green Paper on Chiefs fully consulted upon.

    For now I am withChieftainess Nkomenshya on strategic "ambiquity" : "Let the constitution be silent on the matter, but if the constitution is going to discriminate against chiefs then that will be very unfortunate. It is not the personal interest but the future of the country; we need to move as a team because Zambia is for all of us".

    But that might change by the time I complete the posts!

  12. Cho,

    A) Some parts of His Royal Highness Senior Chief Kapalaula's article are borrowed from the Agenda for Change (AfC) Manifesto and my contribution above. Was he commenting on the discussion in the Manifesto and/or my contribution? I particularly mean the following:

    "... politics is fraught with slander, snobbery and discourtesies."

    "... a chief should, ideally, be an impartial leader of the people in his or her chiefdom regardless of their political affiliations. However, his or her active participation in politics can inevitably place him or her in an adversarial position against those subjects who may have different political alignments."

    B) I have great fears about the following:

    "And in this case article 263 may probably read as follows:

    (1) A Chief who intends to stand for elections to the National Assembly shall produce a certificate of clearance from the Traditional Council before lodging his nomination.'

    (2) A Chief who intends to stand for elections to the National Assembly, but who does not produce a certificate of clearance from the Traditional Council, shall abdicate his chieftainship before lodging his nomination.'"

    These kinds of clauses would open up the country to deadly tribal politics. The example of Chief Puta's anger against Mulongoti and Tetamashimba discussed above should not be conceived of as an isolated case. I cannot envision a situation whereby a chief or tribal council would allow any person or subject to challenge the chief (or any candidate endorsed by him/her) in an election.

    As it is often said, prevention is better than cure.

    By the way, do all the 283 chieftains in Zambia have tribal or traditional councils?

  13. The lack of a popular mandate appears to be coming to haunt British PM Gordon Brown.Also, during today's BBC Question Time programme, Tony Ben, a Labour Cabinet member strongly called for having elected members of the House of Lords! You may find it on the BBC iPlayer.

    The incidental resurfacing of these issues in in today's news simply echoes and re-emphasises my earlier statement on having a popular mandate on the part of those holding senior posts in government.


    In the dual-citizenship discussion, you proposed that certain senior govt posts, including that of Republican President, should only be held by people with single Zambian citizenship, so as to allay any security fears.

    In the same vein, I am arguing that certain senior posts, should be held by those with a popular mandate!

  14. Zedian,

    In the following excerpt from the BBC news article entitled "Washington Diary: Political Mandates," I am not quite sure what is implied by the term "popular mandate" as it is used in the article:

    "One thing he [Obama] possesses without question is a popular mandate."

    If it is about securing a 50+1% vote, all American presidents have to get it in order to become president. I hope the NCC in Zambia will include a 50+1% clause in the new Republican constitution.

  15. I think that it may be important for Zambians to understand some of the peculiarities of the US Constitution with regard to electoral politics, and how that translates into the concept of "popular mandate". As was empirically demonstrated in the 2000 election campaign between George W. Bush and Al Gore, it is actually possible to win a 50+1% majority in the Electoral College of States without winning a 50+1% majority of the popular vote. In the view of most constitutional scholars, it was in fact improper even for the US Supreme Court to make any ruling with regard to the disposition of the Electoral College in that case, given the Constitutional provisions which would normally place such disputed elections in the hands of the elected House of Representatives (something which would not have changed the actual outcome in all probability, but would have transferred responsibility from lifetime appointed judges onto two-year term elected representatives, with potential fallout at the polls).

    The Electoral College is peculiar to the USA, and while it may have been the best that logistics and negotiation could arrive at in 1781, today there is no question that it is fundamentally undemocratic. A voter in Wyoming has 1/100,000th of an EC vote at their disposal, while one in California has 1/550,000th of an EC vote. Especially since the election of 2000, the popular mandate of a US President is indeed in doubt. Barack Obama's candidacy, campaigning as he did in all 50 states against conventional wisdom, winning overwhelmingly as he did, and scoring as he does in subsequent polling on the most controversial topics of a controversial time, leaves once again no doubt that the leader of the US has a "popular mandate", and his people back his decisions.


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