Why presidential election re-run is a costly experiment

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By Justin Mupundu

The 50 percent plus one entails election of a President by more than 50 percent of the votes or ushers in a costly presidential election re-run.

However, a candidate who polls most votes in an election re-run even if less than 50+1 will be declared winner.

Why then hold a re-run which would drain our meager resources Zambia hardly need to shrug off her woes? Why make such a costly experiment?

First and foremost, vote-splitting stem from a heavily contested presidency. Except the late Frederick Chiluba (second President), who scooped the 1991 presidential race with over 76 percent when Kenneth Kaunda (founding President) was his sole challenger, everyone has failed to win presidential election by 50 plus one.

The late Levy Mwanawasa (third President), Rupiah Banda (fourth President), the late Michael Sata (fifth President) and the incumbent President Edgar Lungu have each entered the race with up to 11 other contestants.

President Lungu won 2016 election by 50.4 percent to avert the run-off mainly on the account of 56 percent voter turnout. And the combined opposition garnered 49 percent.

Secondly, Voter apathy (The number of voters shunning election) has been on the rise since 2001. It now exceeds 44 percent. The 2015 presidential polls was marred with Zambia’s highest ever 68 percent voter apathy.

Moreover, an election re-run would be marred with voter apathy that characterizes by-elections.

Voter apathy coupled with vote-splitting candidates makes election of a President by 50 plus one unattainable.

However, Kenyans’ 70 impressive voter turnout in the 2012 election, in a country whose constitution has a 50 plus clause, handed Uhuru Kenyatta’s 58 percent of the vote victory to avert the run-off.

So the secret of electing a President by 50 plus is high voter turnout, which is not the case in Zambia.

Thirdly, The 50+1-elected President would not have a two-third (106) majority MPs guarantee in the 156-member Parliament.

For example, President Lungu’s simple majority 89 PF MPs (81 elected and 8 nominated) would be retained. The combined opposition’s 69 seats in parliament fall short of the majority threshold.

Unlike Chiluba who formed his first government with the majority 134 MPs, Mr. Sata and President Lungu formed their governments with the minority 70 and 82, respectively.

The majority rule principle derives from the number of representatives (MPs) elected together with the President: Indeed, President is elected together with members of parliament with whom he forms government.

We can draw lessons from the USA system: A President is elected together with at least 270 representatives out of the 435 representatives (Senate 100 and Congress 335), or elected by at least 270 electoral colleges.

Similarly, in the British system a political party forms government only if it wins at least 324 majority seats in a 650-member Parliament.

The 50+1 fails to address the constitutional crisis:  The majority threshold required to form government.

Given this scenario, Zambians should elect to either maintain the current simple majority system with minimal changes or replace the 50+1 clause with an Electoral college Clause (under Article 99(3): (1) short-list presidential candidates through primary elections; and (2) elect a President together with 89 MPs and 50 percent of the vote in at least six of the 10 provinces in Zambia.

The 50 plus one Clause is anti-One Zambia One nation: Highly attributable to the voting pattern in the 2016 elections. It is not clear whether one garners the 50 plus one votes in one or two provinces?

But this proposal will not only elect a popularly acceptable President, promote democracy anchored on One Zambia One Nation, and distribute evenly the presidential voting patterns in six provinces, help tribal political parties pull up their socks, technically knock out vote-splitting presidential candidates  as well as stop them from throwing down-drain their hard-earned nomination fees, but also enable the country to hold cost-effective presidential polls.

Zambia does not need a costly presidential election-re-run.

The author is freelance journalist and political analyst

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