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Friday, 4 July 2014

Presidential Uncertainty

"I am not qualified to stand as president because I am excluded by the same amended 1996 Constitution, which excluded Kaunda and excludes, as far as I understand, Given Lubinda and Mulenga Sata. Both your parents have to be Zambian. So [President Sata] is reluctant in my understanding to appoint someone who could be a target of a petition in the courts... If this man is not qualified to stand as president, how can we make him the Acting President? [President Sata] does not want to have a constitutional crisis, when he is somewhere else. So there is no big deal."

(Source: The Post)
This is the clearest statement from Vice President Scott on the issue yet. The conclusion is actually wrong as many legal minds have made clear. For the simple reason that the person who fulfills the presidential functions is not an "acting president" in a legal sense. Such an office does not exist in the constitution. He or she merely mere fulfils the functions of the president with significant limitations (e.g. he cannot sack anyone). So the person need not be directly eligible to be president to fulfill those functions. They just need to be a government minister. The issue of standing as a president in an election is an entirely different matter. 

But thats for the lawyers. What is interesting about this statement for economists is that it creates more uncertainty on the policy direction of the country. We now know that in his mind, Guy Scott will never step in if President Sata was to step out. This means unless Guy Scott is fired, the person who would step in to fulfill presidential functions will most certainly come from one of the ministers. What is unclear is how ministers would choose under such a scenario. Is it a secret ballot like the selection of the Roman Catholic Pope? Is it by consensus? And where would the PF MCC fit in? Lots of uncertainty.

The other thing we have learnt from Scott is that Mulenga Sata must have at one point have been seen or is still seen by some as a potential replacement for Sata should Sata exit. Why else would Guy Scott mention him? It seems very odd. What we can detect in Scott's statement is an attempt to make clear that there's no Sata II for whatever reason. Except of course Given Lubinda and Mulenga Sata have a good case to challenge Scott's interpretation based on the precedent already set in President Chiluba's parentage case. Indeed, Mulenga Sata has already responded saying, "I find the remarks attributed to the vice president inappropriate, divisive and factually incorrect. The circumstances of my birth are completely different from his".

Bottom line : we are living in uncertain times. And that is not good for the economic direction of the country. What is sad is that all of this can be avoided by President Sata naming a substantive Vice President capable of taking over from him, if his legal advisers are telling him Scott can't. But even there it does not seem the incentives are strong for Sata to do so. Apparently some presidents prefer a weak Vice President because they are afraid of dying early through witchcraft. As bizarre as that sound, it was actually the main reason MMD ministers (e.g. Daniel Munkombwe) gave when they opposed having presidential running mates! Incentives matter!

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