The Presidential ‘Running Mate’ Mantra

President Edgar Lungu showing off the new Constitution.
President Edgar Lungu showing off the new Constitution.

THE signing of the Amendment Constitution Bill into law by President Edgar Lungu in Lusaka recently has gotten the nation interested in understanding the contents of the document, especially what the running mate clause entails.
It must be observed that although the concept of a running mate is new to Zambia, a number of countries already have this requirement for presidential candidates.
The United States of America (USA) in particular has a long history of this provision in its presidential elections. But in addition to that, Kenya and Malawi are among countries in Africa that equally have the running mate requirement for presidential candidates.
Up until the amended Constitution became law, the situation in Zambia has been such that when the President is voted into office, he appoints the vice-president in much the same as members of Cabinet are appointed.

This means until now, the electorate has only been voting for the President and once he assumes office, he uses his prerogative to see who should assume the office of the vice-president and who should be in Cabinet.
Now, according to the amended Constitution, this will no longer be the case.
The President and his preferred running mate, who would ascend to the office of vice-president, will both be voted for by the electorate during an election.
The Constitution says, “Qualifications and disqualifications applying to the presidential candidate equally apply to the person selected by the presidential candidate to be a running mate.

“An election to the office of the vice-president shall be conducted at the same time as that of an election to the office of the President so that a vote cast for the presidential candidate is a vote cast for the running mate,” says the law.
This means if a particular presidential candidate is elected, the running mate of that candidate would also be considered voted for.
In other words, voting for a particular presidential candidate automatically means voting for that candidate’s running mate, who, on the President’s assumption of office, would become the vice-president.
‘A vice-president elect shall be sworn into office by the Chief Justice or, in the absence of the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice.
‘The vice-president shall assume office on the same day that the President assumes office,’ the Constitution reads.
This means the law concerning assumption of the office of the vice-president has changed.
Whereas in the past assumption of office of the vice-president was by appointment by the President, the vice-president will now be voted for just like the president.

because the vice-president will now have to be voted for, he or she cannot easily be fired from office by the President.
The amended Constitution also provides that, ‘The office of vice-president becomes vacant if the vice-president dies; resigns by notice in writing to the President; ceases to hold office for some reason; or, assumes the office of President.’
In such a case, the Constitution says, ‘The President shall appoint another person to be vice-president and that the National Assembly shall, by resolution be supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament to approve the appointment of that person as vice-president.’
The Constitution also provides that where the vice-president elect who is supposed to assume office dies, resigns or is for another reason unable to assume the office of President, the speaker shall perform the executive functions; and, a presidential election shall be held within 60 days of the occurrence of the vacancy.’

The Cambridge English Dictionary describes a running mate as a political partner chosen for a politician who is trying to get elected (especially as President).
A running mate is also a person running together with another person on a joint ticket during an election.
‘The term is most often used in reference to the person in the subordinate position (such as the vice-presidential candidate running with a presidential candidate) but can also properly be used when referring to both candidates, such as Ronald Reagan (in the US) and George W Bush who were running mates in 1980,’reads the dictionary.
It further says, ‘The term is usually used in the US in reference to a prospective vice-president.’
‘In some states, candidates for lieutenant governor run on a ticket with gubernatorial (governorship of a state in the US) candidates, and are also known as running mates,” the dictionary reads.

In relation to the US presidential elections, a running mate is the person who is the presidential nominee’s candidate for vice-president.
For instance, Sarah Palin was John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 US presidential election, and Palin was McCain’s choice for vice-president, should he have beaten Barack Obama.
On the other hand, Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s running mate in the 2008 US presidential election and Biden became vice-president in January, 2009.
It is said that US presidential candidates and their teams will carefully evaluate potential running mates, as a running mate can make or break a presidential campaign.
Many campaign teams will choose a running mate who is pretty much the polar opposite of the presidential candidate – for instance, the McCain campaign team chose Sarah Palin because she was thought to be young and dynamic, while McCain was seen as a tested veteran who would appeal to older voters.
The plan did not work, however, as Barack Obama and Joe Biden won the election.

In some cases, a running mate in the US will go on to become a presidential candidate himself. For example, Al Gore served as Bill Clinton’s vice-president for eight years. He then ran for President himself in 2000 (where he eventually lost to George W Bush).
According to historians, the practice of running candidates for President and vice-president together in the US evolved in the 19th Century.
Originally, the electorate cast two ballots for President and whoever took second place in the tabulation became vice-president.
But starting in 1804, the President and vice-president were elected on separate ballots as specified in the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution which was adopted in that year.

As more and more states subsequently began to choose their electors by popular election instead of appointment (South Carolina being the last State to change, in 1860), candidates began to realise they could run together as a team for President and vice-president instead of running
completely separately for each office.
The practice of a presidential candidate having a running mate was solidified during the American Civil War.
In 1864, in the interest of fostering national unity, Abraham Lincoln from the Republican Party, which was popular in the north, and Andrew Johnson of the Democratic Party which had its stronghold in the south, were co-endorsed and ran together for President and vice-president as
candidates of the National Union Party.

Notwithstanding, this party disbanded after the war ended, with the result that Republican Lincoln was succeeded by Democrat Johnson; the states began to place candidates for President and vice-president together on the same ballot ticket – thus making it impossible to vote for a presidential candidate from one party and a vice-presidential candidate from another party, as had previously been.
It has since become typical for running mates in the US to be chosen to balance the ticket geographically, ideologically, or personally.
The objective is to create a more widespread appeal for the presidential ticket.
As a result, it is said presidential candidates from smaller states sometimes choose a vice-presidential running mate from a state with a large number of electoral votes.

It is preferred, but not legally required, that the running mate be from a different state from the presidential nominee, because each person voting can vote for no more than one candidate from his or her own state.
Running mates can also be chosen from swing states in order to boost a candidate’s chance of winning in the state.
(A swing state is a state where two major political parties have similar levels of support among voters, viewed as important in determining the overall result of a presidential election).
In Kenya, the issue of a running mate has been a subject of debate.
For example, prior to the 2013 presidential election which was scooped by Uhuru Kenyatta, delegates from one of the leading political parties, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) demanded that those seeking the running mate slot within the party should be subjected to a nomination process.
The party officials felt the position of running mate should be competitive to ensure the party nominates a popular individual who would attract votes for presidential candidate and the party.
Somewhat extraordinary has been Malawi’s experience with the running mate issue.
In April of 2012, Malawi became the second country in Africa, after Liberia, to have a female President when Joyce Banda assumed power after the death of President Bingu Wa Mutharika.

Ms Banda’s assumption of power was necessitated by Malawi’s constitutional requirement that the vice-president, who is a presidential running mate, must assume power in event of the incumbent’s death.
That meant at the incumbent’s death, Ms Banda was the only person in Malawi who was qualified, by law, to be the country’s next leader.
Therefore, Ms Banda took over power the weekend following the death of the 78-year-old President Mutharika, who had been in office since 2004.
Mr Mutharika’s decision to appoint Ms Banda as his running mate for the 2009 elections surprised many in Malawi’s mainly conservative, male-dominated society which had never before had a female vice-president.

Equally surprising was Ms Banda’s decision to publicly stand up to her boss – by refusing to endorse his plans for his brother, then Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mutharika – the current President of Malwai, to succeed him as President in 2014 when he was due to retire.
Ms Banda was promptly removed from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
She resisted calls for her to resign as the country’s vice-president, saying she was elected and not appointed,and therefore could not be fired by Mr Mutharika.
Ms Banda subsequently set up her own People’s Party.
Her assumption of power was marred by strong opposition of political challengers that did not want her to assume the presidency.
But inspite of opposition, Ms Banda stuck to her guns and invoked the authority of the Malawian Constitution which qualified her, as sitting vice-president of Malawi, to assume power.

In the Zambian scenario, members of the public, through their submissions to four successive constitution review commissions over the years, have suggested that a running mate be a constitutional requirement for those running for the presidency.
This became even more urgent when the country lost two sitting presidents in Dr Levy Patrick Mwanwasa (on August 19, 2008 in Paris, France) and Mr Michael Sata (on October 28, 2014, in London, United Kingdom).
The death of the two presidents left the nation in a quandary as it became apparent that calling a snap election to replace a president, in case of a vacancy in the office of the President as a result of death or incapacitation, was a great cost to the nation.
Therefore, most people felt that the only way out was to change the law by introducing the running mate requirement for those vying for the office of the President.

Technical Committee chairperson on drafting the Constitution, Justice Annel Silungwe explained that the running mate clause meant that the Republican vice-president must be a running mate of the President during elections.
Justice Silungwe said this was meant to save finances spent during a presidential by-election.
He said the vice-president would automatically ascend to the position of the President after being sworn in, in case the incumbent is incapacitated or dies in office.

Political analyst and historian, Chris Zumani Zimba said the running mate clause, which is one of the new inclusions in the amended Constitution, simply means that from now onwards, political parties are going to choose a vice-president in waiting before elections.
“The past experience has been that presidential candidates could contest presidential elections without having a substantive vice-president already chosen.
“So, the running mate clause simply means that all presidential candidates would chose in advance a person they would like to be vice-president as a running mate and the people who will vote for a particular presidential candidate will also have voted for the candidate’s running mate,” he said.
However, some sections of society have expressed concern that the running mate clause would expose the President to insecurity.
They expressed fears that because the running mate knows that he or she is next in line to succeed the President, he or she may be given to machinations aimed at un-sitting the incumbent in order to assume power at all costs.

But as already alluded to, Zambia is not the first country to have this clause and even in African countries which have a history of the running mate provision for presidential candidates, insecurities over the safety of the President have not arisen.
If anything, the Constitution says the vice-president shall be answerable to the President.
That should limit to the barest minimum any differences that may arise between the two.
President Lungu described as progressive the new provisions in the amended constitution, among them the election of a President with over 50 per cent of the valid votes; the provision of a running mate to a presidential candidate; the dual citizenship clause and removal of uncertainty associated with the date of elections, to mention but a few.
“Zambians would know in advance who the successor would be, should the office of the Republican President fall vacant for one reason or another,” President Lungu said after assenting to the Constitution.
He said the signing of the amended Constitution meant that the country had embarked on a new era in governance.
He urged members of the public to reflect on the contents of the amended Constitution. “Please read it!” he said.