Term Presidential Limits

President Lungu with other Heads of States at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
President Lungu with other Heads of States at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

By Isaac Mwanza

I have noted some Zambians including some in civil society are resigned to critical thinking over serious matters. To them, what was done, was done and no question must be raised. Let me put this discussion on the maximum two-term presidential limit into perspective but I must warn the reader that if you not used to read long articles, stay away from here and not rush to comment without understanding this discussion:

1. This discussion is NOT about scrapping off the 5year Presidential term, it’s all about re-looking the concept of the maximum two-term Presidential limit while maintaining the 5 years term.

2. The discussion is NOT about scrapping off Presidential elections or introduction of the “wamuyaya” syndrome, it’s about having competitive elections at Presidential level and promoting the core spirit of democracy.

3. This discussion is NOT about President Lungu because if it was about him, most of you know that I was one person who raised the issue of him not qualifying for Presidency in 2021 under the current provisions of the Constitution and I have not changed my mind on this. This discussion  is about the law on maximum Presidential terms of two terms.

Zambia, upon attainment of Independence from its former colonial master Britain, borrowed the Westminster style of democracy and Dr. Kenneth Kaunda was the first and only Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia in 1964, before it became independent as Zambia.  It is a fact that in the UK, there are no term-limits for Prime Ministers, so where did we borrow the two-term limit for Presidency?

Zambia borrowed the Presidential system from the US style of democracy and with this system we also borrowed the two-term provisions. Now in the US, after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four term presidency 1933-1945, the US Congress passed 22nd Amendment to the constitution into law thereby legalising what had previously only been convention: that Presidents should serve no more than two terms. The two-term convention was seized upon by a coalition of senators who wanted more power for themselves (by undermining the Presidency), FDR haters and presidential aspirants who wanted to ensure regular turnover at the top. There is no logical basis for this limitation beyond that. The effect of this scheming is damaging: it denies Americans the chance to vote for a candidate they might want to support. This amendment limits voter choice.

As I came to learn when I visited the US, some Constitutional experts and many advocates in the US continue to press for the Amendment’s repeal. The argument is that the two-term limit is undemocratic, and I fully agree with them. They say if Americans want to vote for a President again after two terms, and that President is willing to serve, why should their wishes automatically be denied?

Questions to be answered

1. On Development:
Do we have any evidence that the two-term Presidential limit mean a country becomes more developed when a President serves for two-terms as compared to unlimited Presidential term of 5 years each? Are countries, apart from the US, that have two-term presidential terms and been changing leaders more every after two terms more developed that countries without it like Britain?

MY VIEW: there is no direct linkage between the maximum two-term with development of a country. If anything, some policies require long term leadership to ensure their success, over a long period of time: for example, FDR’s post-depression social reforms, ‘The New Deal’ or former President’s, Obama-Care. If those policies are ones voters support, why deny them the chance of continuous development?

2. On Dictatorship
Does evidence suggest that democracies like Zambia with a two-term presidential limit cannot slide into dictatorial leadership than when we have a maximum two-term presidential limit? Can dictators, in democracies, who stay in office be removed by the people through the ballot and not the bullet?

MY VIEW: In 1991, Zambians managed to remove Dr. Kaunda through competitive elections despite his having declared himself “wamuyaya”. We also managed to remove the MMD from office in 2011 despite their thought that they could rule for 100 years. Even when we have unlimited Presidential term of 5 years each, what would stop Zambians after every five years from removing a President whom they don’t want if elections continue to be a hallmark of our democracy?

3. On corrupt leaders
Does evidence suggest that leaders are prevented from looting the country’s treasury when they know that they have a maximum two 5-year term? Do countries like Zimbabwe or Zambia with two-term presidential terms have former or existing leaders who are more accountable and transparent?

MY VIEW: If Dr. Chiluba’s example was something to go by, the man did very well in his first term. Problems became to emerge when the truth began to sink that he was to leave office after his second term. He went on to amass wealth and design suits and the thought that he was not to come back and Prison may be waiting even made it worse.

4. On new ideas and better leaders
Does evidence suggest that with a two-term Presidential term limit, better leaders are elected into office who come with them some new and progressive ideas? Does the two-term presidential limit entails completely new policy makers will come into office that will bring about new ideas that fosters development?

MY VIEW: One political party that governs, say for 30 years, with 3 different Presidents who served 10 years each does not guarantee that new ideas will eventually emerge every time the top leader changed. Donald Trump, whose Presidency is surrounded by controversy and mass demonstrations, cannot be said to be much better than former President Obama. If Zambia’s example is something to go by, the same people who were removed from office in 2011 emerged under a new leader to champion causes they did not believe in.

If the two term rule is aimed at preventing an entrenched set or clique, then why permit Vice Presidents and other close associates of a President run, where the new administration retain the majority of key personnel (including cabinet ministers)? In truth, all the problems the Article 106(3) and a similar 22nd Amendment supposedly combats – a clique or group dominating politics – happen anyway. But these are Ministers that have been voted for – as an unlimited term president who serves another 5 years would be. It’s not as if suddenly the rules of government change when the President is re-elected: all the checks and balances remain in place for the first thoughout.

In essence, if the two-term Presidential limit is about bringing in new leaders with new ideas, the closest option countries must have is not to target the Presidency but political parties. Wouldn’t it be democratic to enact a law that limit a political party to govern for a two-term limit so new ideas can come forth from another party that takes over government? My view is that Zambians must be more concerned about levelling the political playing field that promote competitive elections at all levels than imposing clauses that are undemocratic in themselves and take away the people’s power to decide.

(Disclaimer: This opinion is my personal opinion and does not represent any of the institutions or organisations I may associate with, most of which have no position for now in this debate)