Mmegi Online :: Call to cut president's powers reaches new crescendo
Last Updated
Friday 15 December 2017, 17:56 pm.
Call to cut president's powers reaches new crescendo

NDOLA: The campaign to reduce the powers of the president continues to gather speed despite the fact that the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) has almost completed its work on drafting a new constitution for Zambia.
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Mmegi Online :: Call to cut president's powers reaches new crescendo

Constitutional lawyer and veteran politician, Dr Ludwig Sondashi, has suggested that to enhance the country's democratic governance there is need to trim some of the powers of the president.

Sondashi, who served in the cabinets of presidents Kenneth Kaunda, Frederick Chiluba and Levy Mwanawasa, has also proposed divorcing the presidency from partisan political parties.

Zimbabwe is ahead in allowing its citizens to stand as independents at presidential level. This contrasts with the Zambian system where presidential candidates must be supported and adopted by their respective political parties.

However, the Zambia law allows independents at the local government and National Assembly levels.

As a consequence of having a partisan president, it is sometimes difficult for the president to condemn corruption by members of his party or to be a true arbiter in intra-party feuds like what is currently happening in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

In last month's election, for example, President Rupiah Banda accused opposition UPND of fanning violence prior to the Mufumbwe by-election. This was after suspected MMD cadres assaulted UPND Member of Parliament, Charles Kakoma.

There was a counter-reaction from the opposition causing violence in which two people were killed and one man lost an eye.

Joining the chorus by churches and non-governmental organisations(NGOs), Sondashi had this to say regarding a partisan president:

"Whether you have good women and good men running the elections, they will fail to conduct free and fair elections, as long as the president remains partisan. Take for example the challenges, which the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is facing in running the elections.

"It is finding it difficult to regulate the conduct of the ruling party, MMD. This is because it cannot control the head of state, who is the leader of the MMD. When you look at those countries in the West, which we consider as democratic, you will discover that all of them have gone through democratic reforms which reduced drastically the excessive presidential or executive powers".

Moreover, when there are general or by-elections, the president is allowed to use state resources to campaign for the ruling party, thereby financially disadvantaging opposition political party leaders."

It is for this reason that major political parties with a sizeable number of seats in the National Assembly should be funded by the state. In this way, opposition political parties would not be accused of "dubiously" sourcing funds from foreign donors or sympathisers.

Prior to the 2001 elections, for instance, the MMD splinter group, the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), was accused of sourcing funds from a mobile service provider that intended to enter the Zambian market.

Before the 2001 general election, late UNPD leader, Anderson Mazoka, was accused of siding with the Anglo-American Corporation (AAC), his former employer, which was accused of eyeing more copper mines in Zambia.

It is not clear whether the AAC pulled out of Zambia's copper mining sector immediately after the 2001 elections due to low copper prices on the international market or because Mazoka lost the presidential race to late President Levy



Sourcing of funds by political parties from foreign sources may lead to lapses in development in that certain businesses such as mines may change hands. Political parties may shift to other investors to show appreciation to sponsors or pay back, thereby undermining national sovereignty.

Besides, the ruling party may resort to underhand methods in order to retain power so that some of its supporters can continue with their businesses.

Just recently, members of the MMD accused The Netherlands Institute for Multi-party Democracy of funding the Michael Sata-led PF. The institute provides funds to political parties, but it does so in a diverse manner. For instance, it provided funds for the creation of the Zambia Centre for Inter-party Dialogue (ZCID). The ZCID promotes inter-party dialogue, a broader strategy that has enhanced democracy in Zambia in a broader sense.

Sondashi, who is also the leader of the Forum for Democratic Alternatives (FDA), is of the view that major political parties should be funded from state resources.

"[Late President] Mwanawasa did not agree with me on the need to fund large political parties using public resources...When you decide not to fund opposition parties, why should you complain when these parties get funded from outside the country? This [of not funding opposition parties] is undemocratic because it makes it difficult to change unpopular governments," Sondashi said.

The other factor that has been affected by multi-party politics is local government administration. President Banda not long ago held a press conference in Kitwe on the Copperbelt where he alleged that PF-controlled councils were misusing funds.

In September 2006 general election, the PF performed well on the Copperbelt, where it had several councillors who in turn provided mayoral leadership.

President Banda accused the councils of hiking rent for council houses. Like second president, Chiluba, President Banda ended up directing councils to offer council houses including Itawa Flats in Ndola, to sitting tenants.

Some political observers questioned the presidential powers when Chiluba decreed that council houses should be sold to sitting tenants, saying that should have been left to council administrators - and not the head of state.

During the one-party state era it was not difficult for the central government to implement policies at council level.

And because of the public interest in the running of councils, Zambia can change the system to one in which local authorities could be controlled by technocrats rather than politicians. The role of politicians is law-making not to administer public funds.

The other aspect that has been affected by multi-party politics is the constitution-making process.

President Mwanawasa's government decided that some of the opposition MPs should sit on the NCC as the constitution-making process is a national issue that permeates partisan politics.

But after some of the opposition PF parliamentarians accepted to sit on the NCC, they were treated as "rebels". 
As Zambia's economic development is attached to its political development, refining its democratic governance is seen as an absolute necessity or otherwise face further retrogression.
(Sila Press Agency)


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