Find us on Google+

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010: Part IV

Qualifications of Presidential Candidates

Part IV deals with the important issues relating to the Executive arm of government. As one can imagine there are a number of areas here that merit comment. As such we are likely to consider this section in several short posts. The first problem we encounter is Article 34 – “which deals with qualifications of presidential candidate”:
A person shall be qualified to be a candidate for election as President if that person—
(a) is a citizen by birth or descent;
(b) does not have dual citizenship;
(c) has been ordinarily resident in Zambia for a continuous period of ten years immediately preceding the election;
(d) is not less than thirty-five years of age;
(e) is conversant with the official language; and
(f) declares that person’s assets and liabilities as provided by this Constitution and by, or under, an Act of Parliament.
Notably absent here is the “school qualifications” which caused much trouble during the NCC deliberations.

But there are still problems here. I will reserve comment on provision (b) and its treatment of “dual citizens” as second class Zambians to future posts. What I will briefly say here is that I believe the provision should actually allow "dual citizens" to become presidential candidates, but as a compromise ask them to give up alternative nationality for national security reasons - that ought to be the pattern in nearly all "dual citizen" issues. Unfortunately this is not the case and much "celebration" by the Zambian diaspora is hollow and uninformed to say the least, but we shall discuss that later under a separate chapter.

It is my view that provision (a) and (f) should be the only requirements for standing as a presidential candidate. I hold this position for four simple reasons.

First, provisions of (b) – (e) qualifications are predicated on the elitist notion that apart from a few many Zambians are foolish people. It is not necessary to have these provisions for presidential candidates unless you believe Zambians are not capable of distinguishing a good candidate from a bad one. Those of us who continue to believe in the decency of our people hold that Zambians are perfectly capable of distinguishing whether a person who is below the age of 35 (like me) is able to govern the country. Equally they able to distinguish whether a person who has stayed out of the country (like Clive Chirwa) sufficiently understands their problems. Zambians are not as foolish as the NCC thought we were. They can tell a good candidate from a bad one. So why do they need "protection" by these clauses like they were a little child? Isn't the voting age enough? 

Secondly, the provisions lack clear positive rationale. Consider the provision of only people above 35 qualifying to stand – what is the rationale that figure should be 35 and not 30 or 40? Why have we settled on 35? Is this based on Tumbuka or Bemba traditional understanding of a capable adult? Incidentally, has anyone checked the life expectancy of typical Zambian? Another  provision of standing relates to having “been ordinarily resident in Zambia for a continuous period of ten years immediately preceding the election”. Why 10 years? Why not 9, 15, 14 or 4? Where do these numbers come from? These look to have plucked out of the air, possibly by someone intoxicated with Kachasu! No seriously, we must be serious with the affairs of the country and not just come up with numbers. 

Thirdly, it is discriminatory to legitimate and law abiding Zambians (it creates a two tier society). I find it puzzling that our constitution could discriminate based on age? Having noted that Zambians would never really vote for a 16 year old, I find it strange that we explicitly discriminate against one! Interesting we see nothing wrong with being governed by 70 or 80 or 90 year old.  At least we are consistent with current practice! Similarly, I find it strange that on the one hand we want to encourage people to study abroad and bring back their knowledge, while we are pushing forward provisions that discriminates them based on their aspirations. Does this really make sense to anyone?

Finally, it reduces the pool of good presidential candidates. The purpose of elections is to allow the best candidates to emerge and help manage the affairs of the country. Elections perform this function through fostering competition. The more qualification provisions we have the smaller the pool of quality candidates. The current provisions do not enhance competition, they reduce it. They appear deliberately designed to remove certain candidates in much the same way the now abandoned “education” provisions were intended to.

I would end by noting an obvious point which seems to have escaped the NCC. As a country we need to focus on provisions that alter behaviour in a positive way without reducing the choices of others. People should always be free to stand as presidential candidates and form as many parties as they like as long as tax payers don't have to foot the bill for them (we will come back later to this issue under "political funding" provisions). What is important is to ensure that voters are fully informed and presidential candidates are operating within a contestable electoral system. The draconian restrictions being proposed in Part IV do not only make a mockery of our people but they are against the very nature of freedom and justice on which the Preamble is predicated.

The Zambian Economist is currently reviewing the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010 before it formally responds to the Legislature. All posts in this ongoing review can be found at the Constitution of Zambia page.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.