Editor's Note

A president chosen by the majority of the population?

Is Zambia about to get its first majority president?

Parliament has just adopted the new constitution, including the controversial 50%+1 clause for election of a president. This means that our future president must secure at least half of all votes to win, if not in the first round involving all candidates, then in the second round between the two leading candidates with the most votes.

Supporters say it will ensure a popular president, contrary to the current first-past-the-post system, where a candidate can win with a lot less than the majority of votes, as long as the rest of the votes are spread thinly between other presidential candidates.

The new system is certainly going to change the game. Zambia’s presidential elections may have many candidates, but two of them typically dominate, with this year’s presidential election being a case in points, as Edgar Lungu (PF) and Hakainde Hichilema (UPND) together took 95% of the votes. However, none of them got more than 50% of the votes.

This is important, as next year’s election will look similar – at least up until the result – which means that we are likely to see a rerun. To secure a majority the two candidates now have to lobby for support from the other candidates, their parties and voters, putting smaller parties such as MMD and FDD in an excellent position to gain some influence.

The PF clearly believes that the new system will work to its advantage, or rather to the disadvantage of the UPND, due to the latter’s support base being confined to Southern and Western Province – at least historically – as the UPND believes (with some basis in fact) that this is changing. If the rerun took place today, MMD would support PF, while FDD would go with UPND. Before this happens, however, we are likely to see a great deal of jobs, influence and money change hands, but whether or not this will result in a majority president being elected remains to be seen.

Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly
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This Week’s Exchange

Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development, Birmingham University, UK, stated:

“Until now, Zambia’s progress under multi-party politics has been quietly impressive. Over the last year, though, things have changed. (…) According to the Conference of Catholic Bishops – one of the most influential bodies in the country – Zambia doesn’t deserve to be called a democracy (…) it has become a dictatorship – or getting there. Many Catholic leaders were seen to be sympathetic to the PF, when it won power under Michael Sata in 2011, so what has changed? This is not the first time that a Zambian president has sought to consolidate his authority by manipulating state institutions. Nor is it the first time that opposition leaders have been arrested, or civil society groups intimidated. In the recent past, these moments of high political tension have often been resolved peacefully, (…) but it’s unlikely that Lungu will cede his quest to remain in office. First, key civil society groups such as the trade unions have been weakened by privatisation, informalisation and unemployment. Second, the Constitutional Court, that’s responsible for interpreting the constitution, was handpicked by Lungu. Third, Lungu’s case is more complicated than Chiluba’s. In 2001, the second president had served two full terms in office and wanted one more. Today, Lungu is arguing that he should be allowed to have a third term because his first period in office did not count, as he was just serving out the final year of Sata’s term. All of this means that Lungu is likely to get his way. (…) Opposition protests are inevitable, as is some civil society criticism. If past form is anything to go by, Lungu’s government will respond with threats and intimidation.”

Ruling PF party deputy secretary general Mumbi Phiri reacted:

Cheeseman is nothing but an attention-seeking professor, who thinks he can lecture us about democracy. The people of Zambia spoke through the vote, and their wishes must be respected by all, including Cheeseman. Cheeseman creates the impression that there was a letter authored by all Catholic bishops, which labelled Zambia as a dictatorship. For the record, that was an opinion expressed by the archbishop. (…) It is irresponsible for Cheeseman to compare ours with late President Frederick Chiluba’s third-term bid. The view that the current constitution allows President Lungu to seek re-election (…) is before the courts of law. (…) the PF will respect the outcome of the court system. President Lungu’s good governance record remains solid. It was President Lungu’s administration that took the referendum on the proposed Bill of Rights to the people. (…) it was UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema who campaigned against it. It is President Lungu’s administration, which allowed for the 50%+1 clause in the constitution, the running mate clause, and reduction of presidential powers. President Lungu believes in an independent judiciary. (…) Today, Zambia has a Constitutional Court, something that was unheard of in the history of our nation. While the opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court, President Lungu remained calm until the matter expired. We wish to correct the view that human rights of politicians in trouble with the law are being violated. Citizens, who are also politicians, and on trial, have appeared in court within a week of being charged, and (…) for continued trial. The due process of the law is clearly being followed to the letter. Professor Cheeseman‘s daydream, that Zambia is falling from grace because of HH’s arrest, is a lie. Zambia remains a shining example of democracy not only on the African continent but world over.”