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Monday, 29 August 2011

Against the Poor

The poor continue to be poor, and the gap between the rich and the poor widens at very alarming rates. The children of the influential, wealth-amassing and greedy few that are in authority have their future by oppression and injustice. Not that the poor man's child is not intelligent, and not that they cannot work, do they continue to remain stagnant economically.

The real cause is that while every effort and penny is expended to ensure that the poor man's child is given a future, the opposing forces of oppression and injustice are beyond the mere effort that the poor parent can put in. They do not have legal representation and so many are the cases decided against them. They do not have the political connections that the greedy few have, and so they cannot get the smallest of contracts even through the much-sung about ‘transparent system of public tenders.' They cannot acquire land at a fair price because land deals are controlled by political cadres.

When the time comes for elections, the same poor man and his children are expected to vote for the greedy, power-hungry few. Bicycles and household goods are flown around in an act of ‘generosity' that is not meant for good at all. As soon as the elections, again conducted to the detriment of the masses, are over, the promises made to the poor all vanish into oblivion. The greedy few are back in office,
From a lamentation by Lubemba of Kitwe in The Post. The quote helpfully capture the fundamental challenge facing Zambia's poor. Its not that  just that they are trying to get out of poverty, but don't know how, but they are effectively involved in a perpetual struggle. On one side are the majority - helpless and poor. On the other side are the minority - rich and corrupt Zambians that hold the nation in the palm of their hand. Eliminating poverty will therefore only come once the majority secure sufficient power to shift the policy direction in their favour. The challenge for the poor is to solve the "collective action" problem. Come together and push for rapid transformation that addresses the problem Lubemba identifies. For their part, the rich are working hard to daily divide the poor in fragmented units and prevent that "collective action". That is why popular demands like "50% + 1" are so opposed by Zambia's elite. That is why campaign reform and other measures that level the playing field are opposed. It is the fear of the poor. The elite fear the poor may find a voice, and just may be upset the status quo. So the battle continues..stuck in a perpetual retrogressive equilibrium. 


  1. interesting article. being rich in zambia is not synonymous to greed and corruption. there are so many that are the 'elite' by hard work and are generous. by the way what do the poor contribute to our nation,serously. the writer should not think that being rich has nothing to do with hard work. and being poor is not always because of some elite guy is corrupt.
    as a matter of fact its the poor who are more corrupt.they pay more bribes than the rich, its the poor who think they have everything to loose and make little or no at a road block the so called elite would be willling to challenge the police to a logical conclusion but the poor? the politicians know that the poor have no principles. the same guy who caused havoc between 1992 and 2002 can now come to them and be called a saint. that same guy the elite have rejected him.
    the solution to poor leadership in gov is not too expensive, no known progressive country uses it except the likes of Zimbabwe, DRC and the west african countries but most of all it too expensive for zambia. now of course the poor are led to think that elections cost this country nothing. bad gov has been perpetuated by the poor not the rich, at least for zambia. our country needs to praise the most accomblished people and not 'angelise' being poor.if i had my way i would only allow people with property to vote because they truly have some thing to loose

  2. the solution to poor leadership in gov is not too expensive, no known progressive country uses it except the likes of Zimbabwe, DRC and the west african countries but most of all it too expensive for zambia.

    It is not expensive at all. What would be very cheap, and would not require two elections in case no candidate would get 51% of the vote, would be instant runoff voting, also called preferential voting.

    The voter gets a list of candidates, which they can rank 1 through whatever. The candidate with the lowest score wins.

  3. 50+1 is not expensive compared to the amount of billions being puored into campaigns.

  4. I would like to second MrK on the practicality of instant runoff voting as the obvious counter to assertions that for a presidential candidate to need 50%+1 to win the office would require the Nation to undergo an expensive second round of voting. Instant runoff systems are usually proposed as a cost saving measure in places with 50%+1 systems using multiple voting rounds currently. As he indicates the mechanism is very simple and intuitive for the voter, however to be fair it would be somewhat more time consuming and the increased number of voter inputs would likely also increase the number of mistakes made marking ballot papers. This complexity factor increases as the number of listed candidates to be rated increases.

    As with any change in electoral systems, significant resources would need to be deployed in a timely manner to prepare the electorate for the change such that their franchise is not compromised when they next go to the ballot box. Persons would need to be prepared to compare all candidates to one another rather than just mark their favourite, and error or confusion on the part of any will slow the process for all, so even if well prepared they will have to be equally ready to wait longer. The obvious solutions being more, larger, better staffed polling places, and/or early voting/vote by mail, with attendant costs. The ECZ would have some additional ballot printing costs as well, to provide for replacement of ballots spoiled by the voter and detected prior to completion.

    The real bottleneck appears at the tabulation stage, which changes from: Determine and confirm which box (and only one box) is marked and update one candidate's total; to: Determine and confirm the proper numerical value of each candidate in turn, updating all candidate totals for each ballot. Thus as instant runoff's benefit from presenting additional candidates to the voter and thereby selecting broadly acceptable winners increases, so do the complexities of administrating the system fairly and accurately. In the Zambian context therefore a change to instant runoff voting, while not as expensive as additional rounds would be, would still necessitate additional operating costs and considerable changeover expenses.

    That said, almost all of these additional costs would either be public education or labour, and much of the latter can be done by volunteers. Government paying Zambians to do a job is always cheaper than it looks at first, especially if those people are currently poor, because what then happens to that money? It gets spent, mostly locally, mostly paid to other Zambians who in turn do exactly the same thing with it. That's what money is for, and when money is circulating in the local economy, government benefits.

    The very nature of campaigning under 50%+1 rather than plurality is also likely to reduce the number of contenders, as it will no longer be possible to capture the office without genuine popular appeal rather than division amongst one's opponents. Charging campaigns to cover some of the added costs would also narrow the field to a degree further reducing costs.

    Cost v. Benefit in the case of Instant Runoff seems pretty firmly in the Benefit corner.

  5. "The very nature of campaigning under 50%+1 rather than plurality is also likely to reduce the number of contenders, as it will no longer be possible to capture the office without genuine popular appeal rather than division amongst one's opponents. Charging campaigns to cover some of the added costs would also narrow the field to a degree further reducing costs".
    @yakima this has no evidence. just look at countries which practice this ridiculous for the cost again rather than theorise show facts from countries that practice this.

  6. Aaron, actually there is ample evidence available throughout the literature on the subject. A rather cursory general overview of comparative electoral systems is available via wikipedia. For a more thorough treatment of the subject I would recommend the International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design (3.1MB .pdf).

    Of course there are also more specific and detailed analyses of the effects and experiences of other countries in switching to and utilising preferential voting systems. There is extensive literature on the Australian, Indian, and Irish systems. Or have a look at a country with a more recent transition in systems for a description of transitional hurdles like Papua New Guinea.

    Of course someone is bound to ask whether any of this applies in Africa, and as luck would have it I can provide a link to decent study here: Consequences of Electoral Systems in Africa by Steffan I. Lindberg (2005).

    Proportional Representation in its general and specialised forms is not a new idea. For a historical foundation it's hard to beat John H. Humphreys' 1911 book of the same name. (830KB .pdf)

    Electoral systems pretty much have to be tailored to suit the peculiarities of the country and electorate they are intended to serve, so while comparisons between countries with different systems but also different geography, population, resource base, education level, and economic development are possible, they are not always terribly definitive. A certain amount of theory is required to speculate on the impact of electoral system changes on the Zambian context. Ultimately it will be up to the next Constitutional reform process and the voters to decide what they feel will work best.

  7. Yakima, quite some information here. i managed to read up some still checking out some more. i must say the section on proportional representation which i agree with has nothing to do with 50+1 for presidential election. it fails to make a case for this system and perhaps that was not the author's intention.
    and truly there is no proportional representation in this system (50%+1). in fact this law will limits our freedom. it forces me to vote for a guy i don't want. initially i chose a candidate who got the least vote and now in the re-run you are forcing me to align with a guy i didn't choose.
    Lastly,you make a wrong assumption that just because i didn't vote for the sitting president then i agree with the opposition in general. No. i only agree with elements of the let the law not go against my right to choose. itshould not hip me with chaps i don't agree.

  8. Aaron, I agree that the presence of a 50%+1 standard for victory does not in and of itself necessarily produce greater proportionality in representation (e.g. the USA system), and for presidential elections proportionality is a misnomer, however it is a vital component of "alternate vote" systems which do seem to result in a greater proportion of acceptable representation among voters at the parliamentary level. It sounds as though you may principally object to the "full preference" as opposed to the "optional preference" version of this method, where under the former a voter must rate all candidates to mark a valid ballot, while under the latter system one may rank as many or as few candidates as one sees fit.

    I should also probably note that you would never have your second preference even looked at unless/until your first preference had already clearly not won the election. Also nothing would stop you from rating the incumbent candidate as your second choice to any given opposition candidate. I am not certain that you would be better served by only voting for the candidate with the least votes rather than placing the remaining candidates in order of least offense to your sensibilities, however under an "optional preference" system you would be free to do so.

    If we look back at the 2006 parliamentary election results as if an alternate voting system were in place, and assume a hypothetical most extreme case scenario where everyone who voted for a losing candidate ranked the actual 2006 runner-up above the actual winner, the changes would have been roughly as follows:

    In Central, 1 seat would have changed from MMD to PF.

    In Copperbelt, 9 seats would have changed from PF to MMD.

    In Eastern, 2 seats would go from MMD to PF, 2 from UDA (the then pact between UPND, UNIP, and FDD) to MMD, and 11 from MMD to UDA.

    In Luapula, MMD takes 3 from PF, PF takes 1 back from MMD, MMD takes 1 from NDF, and an Independent takes another 1 from PF.

    In Lusaka, UDA takes 2 each from PF and MMD, but MMD recovers by taking 2 more from PF.

    In Northern, MMD picks up 5 PF seats, but loses 2 back to PF, 1 to UDA, and 1 to Independent. PF recovers 1 from an Independent.

    In Northwestern, UDA wins 2 from MMD, gives 1 back to them, and they each lose 1 to an Independent.

    In Southern, UDA would have taken 1 from ULP and 1 from an Independent, MMD would have taken 2 from UDA, and Independents taken 2 more from UDA.

    In Western, MMD would get 1 from ULP, ULP would take 2 back from MMD.

    Net total changes: MMD +0 seats, PF -15 seats, UDA +12, ULP +0, NDF -1, Independents +4 seats. The provincial mix of parties as well as the distribution of seats within the opposition would change dramatically under this highly unrealistic scenario, yet the ruling party would have had relatively balanced outcomes.

    A more realistic division of alternate preference votes might be more in the range of 60-40 rather than 100-0, however for illustrative purposes I will still assume that the runner-up gets the benefit of the difference:

    In Central, PF still takes that 1 seat from MMD.

    In Copperbelt, MMD would capture 3 PF seats.

    In Eastern, UDA takes 3 from MMD.

    In Luapula, MMD takes 1 from NDF and 1 from PF.

    In Lusaka, UDA take 1 from MMD, MMD takes 1 from PF.

    In Northern, MMD take 1 from PF, PF take 1 from MMD and 1 from Independent.

    In Northwestern, Independent gains 1 from MMD.

    In Southern, no change.

    In Western, MMD takes 1 from ULP.

    Total net changes: MMD +1 seat, PF -3, UDA +4, ULP -1, NDF -1, Independents 0 seats. All parties have vulnerable seats as well as potential pick-ups if they can sway secondary preferences their way. From my perspective, that can be a strong incentive to avoid overly negative campaigning, as your own apparent distaste for many if not all of the candidates would have to matter to them more if your secondary preferences might swing the election for or against them.

  9. Aaron, it was also not my intent to bury your legitimate questions in excess data, but I wanted to give you enough to make your own interpretations and not "script" your reaction to them by inserting my own conclusions with only selective, supportive evidence. In that spirit, I would point you toward India's experience with campaign finance and their electoral review recommendations on increasing bonds/fees for candidates, and to the experience of the Australian green or democratic party as perennial opposition yet aligned through conditional secondary preferences with labour who dare not rule without attention to core issues of either minority and therefore do not field candidates where they statistically cannot win just to make their presence felt (which is a legitimate (read as "effective and not illegal" in non-polispeak) motivator and/or negotiating tactic in many electoral systems, including USA and French 50+1 as well as various first-past-the-post systems).

    If you will go back and re-read my initial contribution to this thread, you will see that I second MrK on the practicality of the system he recommends. I then go on to describe as best I can imagine given my study of elections in general what the effects of such a system would be on cost, time, education, and democratic reform from a theoretical standpoint. I will freely admit that the issue swings for me on whether or not it is "better" (when gauging benefit in cost/benefit, admittedly subjective), on my prediction of structural likelihood that implementing and running it would encourage voter education; employ persons (mostly temporarily, and potentially engaged as sanctioned volunteers acting out of civic duty without remuneration, potentially further reinforcing their impartial credentials) in every constituency, providing a direct mild economic stimulus effect everywhere in the country, however that locality might otherwise be disadvantaged by natural or political factors in the future; foster a culture of trust in the process through greater involvement by local persons not normally on the government payroll (hopefully selected by fair processes themselves given an impartial ECZ); and prospectively increase the effective impact of any given voter on the attention of politicians at the top of a pyramid of millions, in pursuit of greater democracy for better or for worse.

    I recognize that your stated preference is for a limited democratic franchise based on a property standard. Setting aside my own assumptions about what you might mean by that based on historical examples, and with what I hope you can take as honest encouragement, I would ask that you expound a bit on the concept, if only for illustrative, hypothetical purposes. The questions that follow are not meant to be accusatory, but rather as a potential guide to areas of potential concern, please feel free to ignore them if you prefer a different approach to presenting your idea.

    How much property should one own before being granted a vote? Should that be limited to certain kinds of property, or certain valuation formulae to distinguish and properly compare liquid and non-liquid assets (e.g. cash value is easy, property value is never really established until the moment of sale, and then not really valid the next moment after that)? If the standard is based on land, how does one cope with otherwise wealthy and relatively land poor urban elite, let alone official ownership of around 90% of the country by Tribes as administered by chiefs and councils? When the Constitution of the USA was written they apparently were able to clearly codify their agreed standard for such limitations on the democratic franchise, so it is historically true that it can be done. I am genuinely curious as to how you would make such a division if you are willing to undertake the exercise.


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