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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The economics of impeachment..

The Post are reporting the Opposition has now formally written to the Speaker with notice of impeaching President Banda. What is particularly striking is that there indeed does appear, if the Mr Kabimba is stating facts, some clients among MMD parliamentarians :
The Patriotic Front (PF), United Party for National Development (UPND) and client MMD members of parliament have notified the Speaker of the National Assembly over their intention to impeach President Rupiah Banda from office. In a letter dated July 21, 2009, and addressed to Speaker Amusaa Mwanamwambwa, W.M. Kabimba and Company writing on behalf of the PF, UPND and client MMD members of parliament stated that the parliamentarians want President Banda impeached because of various breaches of the Republican Constitution from the time he acted as president.

W.M. Kabimba and Company stated that the motion to Speaker Mwanamwambwa for presentation by the parliamentarians would be forwarded to him within 14 days. “RE: NOTICE OF MOTION FOR IMPEACHMENT OF THE PRESIDENT. We act for the Patriotic Front (PF), United Party for National Development and MMD members of parliament in respect of the above quoted matter. We would like to inform you that we have been instructed to peruse and advise our clients from the three named political parties the various breaches of the articles of the Republican Constitution by the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr. Rupiah B. Banda for presentation of the motion for impeachment to your office......These breaches cover the period August 2008 when Mr. Banda was acting as president of the Republic of Zambia following the demise of President Levy P. Mwanawasa in Paris, France todate. We shall forward the motion to your office for presentation by our clients within 14 days from the date hereof.”
The possibility of MMD MPs rallying behind the impeachment is something that I had not anticipated in earlier musings via Twitter. My view then was that the probability of a successful impeachment were no more than 30%. The reason is simple : weak incentives. In the event of an impeachment Parliament has to be dissolved with a new general election held. There's a reason why previous presidents have kept that provision - precisely because it raises the cost of reneging within the ruling party. Basically, it makes it difficult for those within the ruling party to remove a sitting President, because doing so would automatically send the whole party to a general election. No serious MMD MP wants to go and face an electoral vote with an uncertain outcome. So by ensuring that impeachment triggers general elections, the sitting President is immune from pressure from his party, thereby providing further opportunity for centralising his authority. A president who is immune from being removed because the cost is too much is guaranteed to remain in power throughout the term of his office.

Mr Kabimba's motion, has certainly given pause for thought, but has also given way to natural questions. Is there a deal between the Opposition and the MMD parliamentarians that has somehow strengthened the very weak incentives ensured by the existing constitutions? What would be the nature of that deal, that would ensure that the Opposition does not renege when, and if it assumed power, post elections?


  1. I am no fan of RB but impeaching a sitting President is supposed to be a serious matter. PF and UPND have not provided any serious grounds for impeachment. The impeachment clause should only be used to remove a sitting president that has committed serious crimes or constitutional breaches. I have not seen any specific allegations being levelled against RB. Sata is just trying to trigger a general election.
    As Cho pointed out, MMD MPs (and unpopular opposition MPs) will not support a motion that would trigger a general election. That would be a case of Turkeys voting for xmas!

    The Panel.

  2. You are correct there are essentially two broader questions. 1

    1. Are there grounds for impeachment consistent with the constitution?

    2. Will they manage to impeach him?

    I concentrate on (2) because (1) is straightforward.

    Effectively (1) in the constitution is simple : the President can be impeached when MPs determine that the President is doing more harm than good.

    I think you are correct that a public case is necessary, but we must not forget that in the constitution the bar set for impeachment is pretty flexiible.

  3. This is one of those bizarre cross-over cases where the Zambian Constitution seems to borrow from both the US and UK systems in a way that loses much of the effectiveness of either system in isolation. In the US system, "Impeachment" means that the sitting President has been found by the representatives of the People (House of Representatives) to be prosecutable for one or more crimes as indicated by the Constitution. The Speaker of the House (or designate) is then responsible for carrying through the prosecution as judged by the representative for the States (the Senate), defended by the White House Counsel, and presided over by the Vice-President (official President of the Senate), who gets the dubious honour of taking over if in fact the President is convicted.

    In the UK system, a majority of MPs involved in a vote of confidence can force a new election of the entire Parliament at any point and without further confirmation. It basically amounts to two different versions of what goes wrong when you don't have a King, and how to correct that (far from all the ways these two questions could or have been answered elsewhere).

    This is an interesting test of the current Zambian mechanisms for executive branch accountability, and at the very least we can hope that the members of the NCC are paying close attention and taking notes so as to better understand what entails in such circumstances. Generally, as with all things Constitutional, if flexibility is desirable, best to leave it out. Where clarity is necessary, that is where Constitutions shine, and provide an anchor by which future generations can withstand crises without compromising foundational principles. The circumstances under which popular opinion must be restrained from unlawfully removing the executive are particularly important to clarify, and I hope that this current circumstance will serve to illuminate the shortcomings of the existing process.

  4. Didn't FTJ survive a motion of impeachment at one time?
    I still think this is not helpful at this moment in time but I will reserve judgement until PF and UPND produce the charge sheet.

    The PANEL.

  5. That will teach me to trust the Times' math! Actual breakdown of factions according to the Parliament is: MMD-84, PF-43, UPND-22, ULP-3, UNIP-1, FDD-1, NDF-1, IND-3, TOT-157. 53 votes are required to bring the impeachment motion. If recent Times reports are correct and there are 18 PF MPs not in support, the Pact will require either MMD defectors or the bulk of other opposition parties in order to proceed. The way the math works out, with so many potential PF defections, it could throw this whole issue in the laps of ULP and their three votes.

  6. Yakima,

    I believe only 11 Pf "rebels" have not reconciled. The rest have done that but Pf has allowed them to remain on the NCC. Indeed apparently even out of 11 only 4 or 5 are hardcore rebels the others would easily join a Pf motion. The rebels are extremely worried about 2011 and deselection so are actually looking to reposition themselves as Pf...on an issue of a way to ingratiate themselves with the core Pf supporters.

    Now in terms of the numbers - we also need to account for the two bye elections. One rebel MP resigned. Also the MMD MP who died and hence the Chitambo bye-election.

  7. But Chitambo has been taken back by MMD and Kasama may just give in depending on how much money PF has left to run another huge campaign like they have done in Chitambo. Impeachment won’t work because politicians are not in the business of trying to bring development. They are in it for personal gain first. MMD delivers more personal gain to MP’s than the opposition intend. The opposition have promised to cut costs by reducing MP’s allowances, cutting down on CDF, reducing on motor vehicles in government, etc... and literally forcing MP’s to work for less! Even in 2011, opposition MP’s will be more comfortable with an MMD led government that gives perks than a perk diminishing opposition led government.


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