Observations:The appointment of opposition MPs: What history and criteria underpins it: is it good or it has potential to breed tension within the political system

By Barbrah Musamba Chama Mumba

The adoption of opposition Members of Parliament as ministers is healthy for any well-meaning democratic polity yet can be a source of anarchy or political tension in a country when handled without the recourse of the sponsoring party.

It is not surprising and not the first time in Zambia that a ruling party has appointed opposition MPs as ministers. Thus in the same vein, President Michael Sata has appointed more than ten opposition Members of Parliament as deputy ministers.

These MPs are both from the former ruling party Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) and the second largest opposition party the United Party for National Development (UPND).

It is best to understand Zambia’s governance system and the history of adopting opposition MPs.
Zambia embraces some of the British parliamentarian traits of governance.

Defining the Parliamentary System of governance

A Parliamentary System is a democratic governance of a state in which the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from, and is held accountable to, the legislature (parliament). The head of state is normally a different person from the head of government. On the other hand:

Presidential System of governance. 

The Presidential system in a democracy is where the head of state is often the head of government, and the executive branch does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.

Zambia has a mix of Presidential and parliamentary systems.

However, Zambian politics is based on patronage and its people always look at a president as a figure like person to offer guidance. This is inherited from the traditional setting where the chief is always sought for guidance or a father figure of the village.

This has led to a situation that the president (executive) to have excessive power as compared to the other organs of government.

On the basis of patronage: leaders reward opposition MPs jobs to enhance their own power the result of which is the systematic weakening of opposition political parties.

History’s

The 2001 general elections brought a lot of tension that saw the formation of the FDD, Heritage Party and the PF prior to the actual elections.

The FDD and the Heritage Party (HP) were formed as a result of the expulsion of twenty-two MMD MPs who were mostly ministers opposed to the third term bid of the late president Frederick Chiluba.

The third term bid was spearheaded by the then minister without portfolio, Michael Sata, who was also the secretary general of the ruling MMD.

However, the when Michael Sata was not adopted on the MMD ticket he opted to form the Patriotic Front on account that he could not work with MMD preferred candidate Levy Mwanawasa.

The 2001 general election was marred with a lot of electoral fraud and it was thought that the UPND leader, Anderson Mazoka, had won the presidency other than the MMD’s Mwanawasa.

This led to a petition of the results by three losing opposition leaders Mazoka of UPND, Christon Tembo of FDD and Godfrey Miyanda of the Heritage Party.

Mwanawasa was sworn in as Third Republican President of Zambia on the 2nd of January 2002.
A year later in February 2003, Mwanawasa made a reshuffle to his cabinet, dropping two ministers, demoting one and appointed opposition MPs as ministers.

Outspoken opposition FDD MP Dipak Patel and Sylvia Masebo, who was the lone MP for the Opposition Zambia Republican Party (ZRP), were appointed as full cabinet ministers.

Mwanawasa dropped Lupando Mwape and appointed Dr. Nevers Mumba as Vice President, who was the leader of a minor opposition political party, while Norman Chibamba too got demoted.

He further appointed seven opposition MPs as deputy ministers. They included Chance Kabaghe and Geoffrey Samukonga both from FDD, Gladys Nyirongo and Neddy Nzowa from the heritage party, and Austin Liato from the UPND.

He also appointed Ronnie Shikapwasha, a former HP member who had just won a by election, replacing late Luckson Mapushi as Home Affairs Minister.

These appointments brought a lot of tension between government and the opposition political parties.
Heritage Party’s Miyanda got an injunction restraining Mwanawasa from appointing his MPs as ministers but the president went ahead saying that neither he nor the Attorney General had received the injunction.

During this period, there was so much hatred that Mwanawasa was said to be offering an olive branch to the opposition, despite the court proceedings of petitioning his election and that of appointing opposition MPs, so that he could concentrate on developing the country.

Mwanawasa dubbed it is a “national reconciliation” moment.

“I do understand and sympathise with those who may feel jilted and forsaken for lack of effective leadership.
But if they cannot accept the reality of change it is better that they are left behind to ponder their missed opportunities,” Mwanawasa fired back at his critics.

FDD’s Tembo said the four MPs should consider themselves fired and ZRP’s Ben Mwila wished Masebo well.
Mwanawasa won his cases. The courts ruled that the constitution provides for the president to appoint ministers from members of parliament.

Coming to the main theme of the article, it can be seen that appointments of opposition MPs has been there before the current government embarked on it.

This has always brought tension among opposition political parties as the process is not done with integrity.
Instead it is done at the backs of the opposition leaders including that of the electorate who ushered opposition MPS in office.

The way the British system operates is that once a party fails to make a majority in parliament, it engages an opposition party to form a coalition government. This is done with the leadership of that political party they seek to form government with and certain rules are put in place to guide the entire governance process.

Furthermore, the intent of coalition government is clear- to serve the public and not to destroy the opposition and ruin confidence from the electorate. Note also that coalitions are not a conduit for by elections to lure opposition MPs into the party in government. Principles are still maintained in the public interest.

Mwanawasa’s situation is different to that of Sata’s. In the current situation the ruling party had only sixty seats that is less than half.

Mwanawasa’s appointment saw the decline in the fortunes of the FDD, HP and UPND. The ZRP is now none existent.

The FDD and HP have failed to pick up from the situation whilst the UPND seems to be getting back to its self of 2001.

This unfortunately has had a negative direct consequence on the quality of opposition in the last ten years. Who knows what the future of Zambia’s opposition is should the current situation continue. What about the aspect of checks and balances vested in a strong opposition party system.

In future or the constitution should make provision for a coalition government where there is no outright winner.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to a coalition government.

Advantages
• Government is more consensus-based: resulting policies will be broadly approved of
• A better representation of the electorate’s wishes
• Better quality of policy: enhanced scrutiny and increased attention paid to each policy
• Increased continuity: election does not lead to dramatic overhaul which can produce fragmented rule
Disadvantages
• Fractious and prone disharmony
• The minor party becomes a “kingmaker” and thus gain more their support than their vote would otherwise indicate.
• Powerful parties can use their leverage in coalition to hinder the growth and formation of new parties by forming alliances without them.

If not a coalition government, the ruling party should engage the opposition party leadership if they want to appoint an opposition MP.