Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Does Zambia's Electoral System Need Reform?

(Published in Zambian Economist, June, 2009, Volume 1 Lusaka, Zambia)

1. Introduction

Zambia faces many challenges in attempting to improve its electoral system so that the system becomes and is seen to be fair and efficient.

These challenges include improving voter registration (by revising the voters roll, computerizing the system and adopting a system that does not need using an NRC); Improving electoral participation ( motivating individual voters, doing away with institutional bottlenecks such as creating possibility to cast a vote in any constituency/ district/ province other than where you registered, allowing advance voting and voting by mail etc; provision of sate subsides to political parties and son on).

The purpose of this article is not to discuss these challenges but to contribute on the currently raging debate on the need for Zambia to have a Parliament that is representative of the votes cast and a President who is elected by the majority of voters to ensure that there is legitimacy be in leadership.

2. Parliamentary Elections

In the Zambian Electoral system, the country is divided into 150 single-member constituencies. Representatives are elected to Parliament by the first-part- the post (FPTP) (single majority) method which awards seats inn the National Assembly to the candidates with largest number of votes in each constituency. Under this system, the strongest party in the National Assembly may have an absolute majority of seats with less than an absolute majority of votes cast. This has been true in Zambia since 2001 where the combined votes of opposition parties were more than those of the ruling MMD. However, considered on its own, the MMD in all the past three general elections had both absolute majorities in terms of votes cast as well as seats awarded when compared to other individual parties. In the 2008 general elections for instance, using presidential votes cast, a total of 1,791,806 votes were cast and the MMD candidate Rupiah Banda obtained 718,359 ( 40.90%) votes, PF candidate Michael Sata had 683,150 (38.13%) votes, UPND candidate Hakainde Hichilema had 353,018 (19.70%) votes and the Heritage Party candidate Godfrey Miyanda had 13,683(0.76%) votes.

Generally, the current Electoral system favors parties whose support is concentrated ethnically (geographically) and tends to discriminate against parties with support spread across the constituencies. In the 2008 Elections for instance, support for MMD was greatest in all rural areas other than in Southern, Luapula and half of Northern Province. The PF support was on the copper belt, Lusaka Urban, Kabwe Urban, Luapula and half of Northern Province. The UPND: support was in Southern Province and two constituencies in North Western Province. The Heritage party was neither here nor there as they were largely considered as spoilers.

3. Proportional Representative
On account of the tendency towards sectarianism and other difficulties of First Past The Post in Parliamentary Elections, many people including the Mungo’mba Constitutional Review Commission recommended the adoption of the Proportional Representation system which in various forms is used in most Western Countries in electing their National Legislatures.

An example of how the Proportional Representative system works may suffice to explain this voting approach. Presently, Zambia constitutes 150 constituencies for which 150 members to Parliament are elected. In the 2006 presidential elections, there were seven (7) parties that contested. The total presidential votes cast which were closely related to parliamentary votes cast were 2,740, 178. If this figure was divided by 150 seats, a seat in Parliament would be awarded to a party with 18,268 votes. In this case, the MMD should have been given 64 seats instead of 43. UPND should have been given 38 seats instead of 26. The HP should have been given 2 seats and APC 1 (one) seat. Similarly in the 2008 elections using presidential elections result, the total votes cast were 1,791,806 which could have meant 11,945 votes per constituencies. In this case, MMD should have been awarded 60 seats instead of 74, the PF 57 instead of 39, the UPND 30 instead of 21 and the Heritage Party at least one seat.

4. Advantages of Proportional Representation
The country has been advised to adopt a form of Proportional Representation electoral method for the following reasons.

1. Political parties will gain representation in Parliament in proportion to their share of votes cast. In real terms, there will be one entity Zambia. Voters will cast votes for parties who in turn will allocate from their lists designated representative per constituency won. On account of this , costly bye-elections will also be done with as parties will simply replace candidates from their lists whenever a vacancy occurred.
2. More parties are likely to gain representation as this electoral method will stimulate voters to take part in elections which will lead to higher voter turnouts. In the 2006 presidential elections, the Heritage Party should have been awarded at least 2 seats and that of APC at least one seat. For argument sake, this could have enabled Gen. Godfrey Miyanda and Mr. Winwright Ngndo to be Members of Parliament and usefully participates in our country’s governance rather than be relegated to history.

3. Bye-elections shall be avoided in both Parliamentary and Presidential elections since there will be only one elect ion and the President will have a running mate in his/her party.

4. The Proportional Representational system will strengthen political parties as organizations and enhance their role in the Zambia political process
5. Presidential Elections (50 + 1)

It was only in the 1995 Constitutional Amendment which in spite of being challenged by many Zambians, President Frederick Chiluba’s administration forced the amendment that provided for the election of the Republican President by a simple majority rather than the absolute majority that was previously provided in the Constitution since 1964. Because of this change, all subsequent victories by Presidential candidates have been on a basis of minority votes. It appears Zambia’s public opinion is strongly of the view to change this and adopt the marjoritarian approach

In 2001, President Levy Mwanawasa won the Presidential elections with a mere 28.69% of the total votes Cast. In the 2006 elections, President Mwanawasa again won by 42.98% of the votes cast. In the elections of 2008 following the demise of President Mwanawasa, Vice President Rupiah Banda won by 40.09% of the votes cast. Because this electoral process creates a President voted by less than the majority who cast votes, many countries have adopted systems where the last two of the candidates re-contest in a re-run of the elections to determine the real winner. Many Zambians are advocating a return to this electoral process of the 50 + 1 method.

The return to marjoritarian doctrines of electing a President is opposed by a section of our society who has advanced cost considerations and the danger of destabilizing the country on sectarian/tribal lines. It is also possible that these opposers are afraid of allowing the opposition to gang up in the re-run to win a majority vote. If such a thing happened, it is possible to have a President from one party who may have no majority members in parliament. This may lead to the formation of a minority government where the government may fail to pass critical legislation which may be opposed by the largest party in the house. This may lead into a costly constitutional crisis that may require parliament to be dissolved and for another costly general election to be held.

6. Recommendations
It is recommended that, as the National Constitutional Conference completes its work on our new constitution, they must be alive to the public demand for the 50 + 1 marjoritaanism doctrine as well as the merits of Proportional Representation. Adoption of proportional representation is the most democratic method of electioneering and is recommended to be adopted in respect of parliamentary elections. With respect to Presidential elections, whereas, it would be cost effective to emulate the South African method where a President is first elected by his/her party and confirmed by parliament, the public opinion in Zambia seems to be the demand to elect a President and his/her running mate by the whole country as is the case in the United States of America on the basis of 50 + 1 marjoritaanism. Both approaches have been tested and provide enormous challenges for Zambia.

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