By Paul Shalala
In the past two months, the Zambian media has been dominated by the debate on whether President Michael Sata has the moral right to appoint opposition Members of Parliament to serve in his government as Deputy Ministers.
On Monday, one MMD MP who was serving as a Deputy Minister resigned from his ministerial position after pressure from his party. The following day, President Sata appointed two more MMD MPs to serve in his government and on Wednesday, the MMD’s National Executive Committee is set to meet and decide the fate of all its MPs who are serving in the PF government, possibly expelling them.
Legally, the 1991 Zambian constitution as amended in 1996 allows the head of state to appoint MPs from within the legislature. The constitution does however not state from which party the president can appoint making it easy for Mr Sata to appoint across the board. Therefore, the president does not break any law by appointing opposition MPs.
But why is Mr Sata targeting MMD MPs only? Below are some of the points which could be behind the president’s continuous appointments from within the MMD.
The ruling Patriotic Front does not have the numbers to pass laws on its own. The opposition actually has the power to bring a deadlock in the house, they have the numbers. The PF has less than the two thirds majority (106 MPs) which is needed to control parliament without any problem from backbenchers. It is this lack of the two thirds majority which somehow is pushing the PF to continuously court MMD MPs.
Once these opposition MPs are appointed as Ministers, they shift seats to the right of the Speaker and subsequently change their pattern of voting in parliament, giving an advantage to the PF which has few seats. Therefore, its all sweet for Dr Guy Scott, leader of government business in the house, when an opposition MP shifts camp in Parliament.
The other reason why MMD MPs are easily appointed by President Sata is the fact that the head of state is seen as a product of the MMD, a party he led as National Secretary before ditched it and formed the Patriotic Front. This realization makes it easy for MMD MPs to become loyal to the President than UPND MPs who would not accept such an offer. Loyalty to the system makes it easy for the PF to have it easy in the house.
By appointing opposition MPs into his government, President Sata is ensuring PF’s dominancy over the political scene. Dominancy for the PF is necessary as every ruling party needs it to suppress the opposition. But in cases where it’s a coalition government, this dominancy is not counted as an opposition party fully agrees to join government. By having opposition MPs within his ranks, President Sata will continue to dominate politics both nationally and within the party.
Divisions in MMD
President Sata seems to be appointing only MMD MPs after realizing that the MMD seems to be the most divided opposition political party in the country. The UPND with its 29 MPs seems united against any of its MPs serving in the PF government, it has actually made it clear it would not tolerate such a move and would instantly expel any of its MPs who would ‘go to bed’ with the ruling party. But the MMD, the major opposition party in the house, is divided on this matter.
Some sections of this former ruling party agree to their MPs sharing power with the ruling PF due to the party’s own legacy which stems from the Levy Mwanawasa era. However, another section of MMD is publicly opposed to those MPs who are serving in government. It is this YES and NO situation in MMD which to some extent has convinced the president to use MMD as a leverage for his control of Manda Hill.
As long as the Zambian constitution allows ministers to be appointed from within parliament, this horse trading will continue. Ruling parties will continue dominating the opposition in a bid to control the house and pass critical laws. However, with the new draft constitution suggesting the appointment of ministers from outside parliament, this culture of ‘poaching’ opposition MPs is likely to end as only technocrats will be serving in ministerial portfolios.