By the Citizens Democratic Party ‘Think Tank’
Politics in Zambia has for a long time been a dysfunctional system, from the racist colonialism, through to the Westminster style democratic system then onwards to
the so-called One Party Participatory democracy and eventually to the hybrid system we have today, a multiparty system. According to a Wikipedia entry, a multi-party
system is a system in which multiple political parties have the capacity to gain control of government separately or in coalition. The effective number of parties in a
multi-party system is normally larger than two. Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’; equality and freedom have been
identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal
access to power. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, no restrictions can apply to anyone wanting to become a representative,
and the freedom of its citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties which are generally protected by a constitution.
Unlike a single-party system (or a non-partisan democracy), a multiparty democracy encourages the general constituency to form multiple distinct, officially
recognized groups, generally called political parties. Each party competes for votes from the enfranchised constituents (those allowed to vote). A multi-party system
prevents the leadership of a single party from controlling a single legislative chamber without challenge. The key word here is COMPETE for votes. Thus all political
parties in Zambia are supposed to be involved in a competition for votes from Zambian citizens. The question that one asks is what the reality is on the ground in terms
of our political system. Do the various political parties truly understand their role within a multi-party system?
It is quite evident that Zambia has not truly moved away from the dominance of one political party as we see the MMD maintain hegemony over power since 1991.
Interestingly the MMD has now become dominated by former UNIP leaders that were a key part of the 27 year rule of UNIP under the one party system. The major
missing part of Zambia’s transition in 1991 was that while we had a change of President in 1991 the fundamental centralised structure of the Governance system was
not changed. The Constitution of Zambia still gives the President significant Executive power which is not in balance within a multi-party system and as such our two
other arms of Government, the Judiciary and Legislature are not able to provide effective checks and balances to the Executive.
What we have in Zambia today is “Polarized Pluralism” which is a symptom of a sick two-party or multi-party political system. It was originally described by political
philosopher Giovanni Sartori and defines a system where moderate views are replaced by polarized views. In a typical two-plus, two-party, or multi-party system, the
distribution of party power looks like a slightly skewed normal curve. Most of the country is moderate or moderate-leaning liberal or conservative. If the country
suffers polarized pluralism, then the curve is more like a bimodal distribution, with the power at the far political left and right ends, and a severe dip in the middle; one
side will have more influence than the other, creating a strong trend to follow them. The extremist group with the most control eventually gains full control of the state;
compromises eventually become nonexistent, and the controlling power tramples the opposition on all issues.
Polarized pluralism was visible immediately preceding the Nazi era in Germany. The country had a strong support for communism, but a slightly but significantly
stronger support for the Nazi party. Communism lay on the far left, while the Nazi party lay on the far right, associated with fascism. In Zambia today we have a similar
polarized situation but the polarisation is not based on any ideology, it is simply about POWER and which individual exercises that power. So in Zambia today the
country is polarized along ethnic, regional and die-hard partisan lines with daily harsh criticisms of the Party in power. In such a polarized environment it is very
difficult for new political voices to be heard but even more significantly it discourages a lot well intentioned and capable Zambians from stepping into the political
arena. This becomes a vicious cycle as the mediocrity of the political system continues and only the loudest seem to get heard even though they offer no solutions to
the political and social economic problems that face the people daily.
In Zambia’s situation where we have a hybrid of a Presidential and Westminster style Parliamentary coalition building tends to be more problematic than in pure
parliamentary systems like in the UK because of differences in how executive power is formed and maintained. Presidential systems lack mechanisms for assuring
that the executive has a majority in the legislature, and there is no way of replacing minority governments until the next prescheduled elections. Consequently,
presidential systems are simultaneously more prone to minority governments and to immobilism. We saw this situation in the first term of Levy and we are seeing it
again with RB. This is why in Zambia it is very difficult for alliances or Pacts to work without a significant change in our Constitution.
It would help Zambia immensely if we were able to fully meet three essential conditions for our system to truly become an effective multi-party democratic system.
Robert Dahl in his book; “Democracy and its Critics” in 1989, described three essential conditions for a multiparty democracy to function. These are:
a) extensive competition by contestants including individuals, groups or parties for government;
b) political participation that provides the choice for the electorate to select candidates in free and fair elections; and;
c) civil and political liberties that enable citizens to express themselves without fear of punishment.
Problems abound when these conditions do not obtain in the social and economic world of political actors as we have today in Zambia. We can recognize polarized
pluralism in Zambia through the following factors:
• Anti-systemic party (PF/UPND Pact e.g. PF refusal to participate in constitution making process, lack of respect for the Government)
• Bilateral opposition (cannot join each other e.g. PF/MMD)
• Center party is forced from its position (e.g. UPND has now also become extreme in its views. Many will recall at the height of UPND it produced an alternative
budget and had its key economic adviser poached to become Minister of Finance)
• Ideological distance between parties (MMD pro-business/privatisation both foreign and domestic while PF is against privatization and against particular foreign
investors from China)
• Centrifugal drive (Sartori describes centrifugal forces as those that drive parties to adopt extreme positions in relation to the centre)
• Politics of over-promising (classic example is the miracle economic turnaround in 90 days as promised by the PF)
Polarized pluralism is a bane to democracy. It can contribute to democratic breakdown as we have recently seen in Venezuela (Hugo Chavez) and tragically in Kenya
after the 2007 elections even though it has now been salvaged with the promulgation of a new Constitution on 27th August 2010 after much bloodshed. Is this what we
want in Zambia before we find sense and sit down together as a nation and make for ourselves a good Constitution? If there is one legacy that President Rupiah Banda
can leave behind to be counted amongst the Great leaders of Africa would be to ensure that a new Constitution is enacted based on fulfilling the above conditions fully.
If not he will just be like every other leader in much of Africa that has simply enjoyed the trappings of power and forgotten the essence of why he first stood for public
office that is, to serve the public faithfully.
Many of the senior politicians in Zambia have forgotten the oaths they took as servants of the people. It boggles the mind when you have sitting MP’s being convicted of
criminal felony but still not able on principle to resign their positions let alone their political parties still allowing them to remain members of their parties. This rot goes
right through the whole political establishment whether ruling or opposition party. As the country goes to the polls next year it is important we understand the source
of the current polarised status of Zambian politics in order to develop a strategy that fully incorporates this understanding while at the same time lays the foundation
for ordinary citizens to participate fully in the creation of a truly multi-party democratic state in Zambia. It is hoped that many Zambians that have in the past been
reluctant to join politics should seriously re-consider their position and support the various new political parties. In my own case I would most welcome as many
Zambians deciding to join CDP which is truly a Party for the People! Let us develop our own solutions to the socio-economic issues we face in Zambia and let us stop
looking always to donors to solve problems we have created ourselves by remaining silent for too long. It is time to Stand up and be counted for Zambia.