Chris Zumani Zimba: Political Science PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Author and Governance Consultant


  1. Introduction

With a population of more than 13 million people, Zambia is a former British colony that got independence in 1964 and was ruled by one party (UNIP) for the first 27 years under Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. Like many African states such as Zimbabwe, Uganda, DR Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Gabon, Sierra Leone, or Cameroon, Zambia has many years and multiple decades of conducting national elections of voting for Republican Presidents without unfortunately witnessing and attaining democratic consolidation.

Although there are many factors to explain this phenomenon such as high levels of poverty, voter illiteracy, existence radical sectarian groups or weak governance institutions, this paper has identified and will consequently focus to discuss one of the covert but critical factors that has delayed or denied democratic consolidation in Zambia and many other African states- the application and sustainability of the presidential democracy system where the eligible citizens of a given state are periodically mandated to vote and elect one man or woman as both Head of State,  Government as well as Commander of the Armed Force with specific reference to Zambia and will also generalize the observations in relations to other African countries.

2. What is democratic consolidation?

According to the Linz and Stepan, ‘democratic consolidation’ is only attained when democracy becomes ‘the only game in town’ (Linz and Stepan (1997:15). This is amplified by As Andreas Schedler when he noted that democratic consolidation is ‘‘beyond the challenge of making new democracies secure, of extending their life expectancy beyond the ort term, of making them immune against the threat of authoritarian regression, of building dams against eventual ‘reverse waves’ and of making democracy the only game in town’’ as well as ‘‘include such divergent items as popular legitimation, the diffusion of democratic values, the neutralization of antisystem actors, civilian supremacy over the military, the elimination of authoritarian enclaves, party building, the organization of functional interests, the stabilization of electoral rules, the routinization of politics, the decentralization of state power,  the introduction of mechanisms of direct democracy as well as judicial reforms and the alleviation of poverty ’’ (Schedler. A, 1998:149,150; Huntington P. S, 1997:7). In the same vein, Guillermo O’Donnell defines democratic consolidation from a different perspective where he believes that the formal institutionalization of electoral and governance rules must be supplemented by the informal practices of all political actors in society and that democratic consolidation only occurs when the actors in a system follow and practice the formal rules of the democratic institution (O’Donnell. G, 2004:32-46).  This paper adopts all the above definitions in this discussion.

3. What are the main differences between a Presidential and Parliamentary Democratic System?

To use simple terms, ‘a Parliamentary System is a system of government in which the ministers of the Executive Branch get their legitimacy from a Legislature and are accountable to that body, such that the Executive and Legislative branches are intertwined’ (citelighter, 2014). In other words, the parliamentary system, democratic form of government in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the parliament (legislature) forms the government, its leader becoming prime minister or chancellor as Head of government while the position of Head of State is designated to either a Monarchy, ceremonial President or Speaker of the National Assembly (Britannia, 2014). On the other hand, a presidential system is ‘a democratic system of government where an executive branch is led by a president who is elected in a popular vote and serves as both head of state and head of government which make him/her separate and not responsible to the legislature and in normal circumstances, dismiss by them except through impeachment which is both technically difficult and very rare worldwide because of its central tenet of presidentialism’ ((citelighter, 2014). The United States of America, for instance, has a presidential system while France has a hybrid of both the parliamentary and presidential called the semi-presidential system.

4. The merits of the Presidential System against the demerits of the Parliamentary System?

To start with, we need to stress that the presidential system has many merits, advantages and strength over the parliamentary system.  The fact that the a leader is elected by a popular vote makes the presidential system more democratically legitimate because he or she is the direct product of the people’s choice while a parliamentary system produces a leader who is indirectly linked to the masses. Given that a president is elected to save a specific term by the people and parliament cannot dismiss him or her anyhow and as they think and wish, it is clear that this system warrants both governance stability and policy certainty as the political leader is guaranteed of starting and finishing his or her electoral mandate and term. On the hand other, parliamentary government tend and cannot be ‘unstable’ as parliament can change and dismiss one Prime Minister or President from another in a single given term and thereby creating policy uncertainty and stakeholder anxiety.   In addition, in presidential systems with a running mate clause such as Malawi or Ghana, the death of the sitting president cannot create political stability or stakeholder anxiety and policy uncertainty as the Vice President automatically takes over to finish the term.

5. The case and experience of Zambia’s presidential democracy system

In 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011, Zambia held periodical Presidential and General Elections with MMD’s FTJ Chiluba, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa and PF’s Michael Sata emerging the winners respectively. This is in line with the Republican Constitution under Article 34, clause (1) which states that “the election of the President shall be direct by universal adult suffrage and by secret ballot and shall be conducted in accordance with this Article and as may be prescribed by or under an Act of Parliament”1. Clause (2) of the same Article provides that “an election to the office of President shall be held whenever the National Assembly is dissolved ( every five years) and otherwise as provided by Article 38”2. In 2008, Zambia held Presidential Bye Elections following the death of President Mwanawasa which saw MMD’s Rupiah Banda emerging the winner. In January, 2015, Zambia held another unexpected Presidential Bye Election following the death of President SATA in October, 2014. This is also necessitated by Article 38.(1) which states that “if the office of the President becomes vacant by reason of his death or resignation or by reason of his ceasing to hold office by virtue of Article 36, 37 or 88, an election to the office of the President shall be held in accordance with Article 34 within ninety days from the date of the office becoming vacant”3. And in 2016, is posed to hold periodical Presidential and General Elections. This is where the experience of Zambia’s elective presidential democracy is postured both politically fragile and institutionally unstable as former Zambian President, FTJ Chiluba puts it that ‘people fight and die for the presidency in Africa’4. As noted, it is regrettable that the current constitution has facilitated a rare political drama were in the space of six (6) years, Zambia has lost two incumbent Presidents and held four (4)  Presidential and General elections with four (4) different eligible citizens being elected as Head of Government and State.

However, all Zambians now know that this political experience of repeatedly and continuously electing a new President has been too expensive, divisive, insecure, traumatizing, dangerous and uncertain for the country’s national unity, development and democratic consolidation. Thus, although Zambia has 24 years of multiparty democracy since 1991 with seven (7) Presidential elections and six (6) Republican Presidents being voted in and out of power, Zambia is still far from witnessing and talking about democratic consolidation largely due to the very reason we have earlier advanced among others.  In all elections (either Presidential, Parliamentary or General) the pre, during and post campaign and election political environment in Zambia is often if not always associated with gross interparty hostility, violence, character assassinations, ethnic tensions, regional divisions as well as bloodshed and sometimes loss of  human lives amidst  alleged and actual of vote-rigging, vote-buying and voter intimidation. In the experience of the former Northern Rhodesia and Barotseland, this has been the repeated evident case in 1991, 1997, 2001, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015 Presidential elections.

As such, it is true to generalize that Zambia’s elective presidential democracy systems is both too weak and fragile such that its workability, sustainability and lifespan is both questionable and unpredictable  as it has failed to be permanently institutionalized and consolidated for the past 24years. In other words, the question of Zambia attaining and sustaining democratic consolidation despite witnessing multiple Presidential and General elections is both a false dream and impossible. How and why has it become too difficult for Zambian policy makers, scholars, politicians and elite stakeholders to see that the current elective presidential democracy system is fueling ethnic tensions, regional divisions and political instability every time elections are on the horizon? And how can a poor state maintain an old fashion and expensive governance system of periodically electing a popular dictator, king or ruler for majority poor and illiterate or semi-illiterate voters? Now, if ‘people fight and die for the presidency in Africa’ as late President Chiluba observed besides the process being hostile, divisive, expensive and fragile, is there another governance mechanism and system that can be put in place in order to reduce or curtail the political instability, uncertainty, cost and national insecurity that comes with the election of an African or Zambian President?  Are Zambians and most Africans permanently trapped, doomed and subjected to maintain the fragile, divisive, expensive, incompatible and instable elective presidential democracy system or are they free to make constitutional amendments to introduce the parliamentary democracy system or other models?   What are the main weaknesses of the elective presidential democracy system in Zambia against the strength of the parliamentary democracy system?  Can Zambia think and talk about attaining democratic consolidation soon or in the foreseeable future under its current Presidential system? What are the key observations and novel recommendations for the consolidation and workability of democracy and good governance in Zambia and consequently in Africa?


a. The Presidential System is too power loaded and not different from the old tyrannical system   

The current Presidential System in Zambia and many African states is not technically different from the old tyrannical political order or autocratic system of having powerful and fearful kings, emperors and rulers such as Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Mobutu Seseko or Amin were one man or woman is both head of state, government and commander of the armed force.  All political, state, government and military command powers in one elected person and there visible consequences in references to democratic consolidation and good governance across Africa. On the other hand, a Parliamentary System either curtails or reduces this monster political creation as the powers and functions of Head of State are installed either in a Monarchy or Elected President while the powers and functions of Head of government are installed in a Prime Ministers or President appointed by the ruling party or coalition from amongst parliamentarians.

b. The powerful Presidential System makes most Africa leaders prone to abuse and manipulate constitutions

A Presidential System which anoints powerful and fearful elected  political leaders in Zambia and many African states through a popular vote has consequently made some ‘elected African kings‘ vulnerable to abuse their political powers by altering and attempting to manipulate national constitutions and other public policies and good governance practices in order to sustain their stay  in office. Chiluba in Zambia, Museveni in Uganda, Mugabde in Zimbabwe, Paul Biya in Cameroon, Kabila in DR Congo, Ngwema in Equatorial Guinea, Bagbo in Ivory Coast, Obasanjo in Nigeria, Kagame in Rwanda, etc. On the other hand, a Parliamentary System will nullify such temptations of powerful elected Presidents abusing political powers by altering and attempting to manipulate national constitutions and other public policies and good governance practices as the party and parliament will be more powerful and responsible over national governance as institutions as opposed to powerful individuals.

c. The powerful Presidential System makes most African leaders to bride, overpower or compromise other key stakeholders

A Presidential System makes most powerful sitting political leaders in Zambia and many African states to bride, overpower or compromise or compromise some key stakeholders such as renown traditional leaders, local civil society, media or religious clerics to support them in the name of the government of the day by turning them to work against or disadvantage the opposition candidates during campaigns as they possess some influence over their members and constituencies.  On the other hand, a Parliamentary System will reduce this practice of bribing and manipulating some key stakeholders such as renown traditional leaders, local civil society, media or religious clerics by a powerful sitting President to retain political power as the focus in national elections is not for the competition for big political figures but rather a normal race for big political parties i.e. institutions via the local MPs, Senators and Councilors.

d. The Presidential System continuously creates political instability and national disunity in most diverse ethnic and religious African states

The continuous practice of electing an individual President in Zambia and many African states has time and again created serious political instability and national disunity with diverse ethnic defenders, regional advocates and/or religious interest groups supporting and demanding for their sectarian leader to be elected the President. In Zambia today, there is visible and clear ethnic tension and division in the voting pattern especially between the Tongas and the Bembas against a background of having more than 72 different tribes. On the other hand, a Parliamentary System will reduce this practice of dividing a country on ethnic or religious lines as political competition is focused on popular political parties i.e. institutions via the local MPs, Senators and Councilors than individuals to take over an ethnically, religiously or sectarian diverse country and thereby  political tension, divisions and instability.

e. The presidential system creates permanent/long term divisions and hostility between the winning party in government and the losing opposition parties

This is self-explanatory. In a presidential system, there is only one person who is elected as the winner and only that politician becomes the president and forms government. The loser/s are sidelined, mocked and sometimes shamed off regardless of the margin of political defeat. This makes the elected sitting president and his/her ruling party to maintain permanent or long term divisions, tensions, hostility and even political malice with the main losing and bitter opposition leaders and party. Many Africa presidential democracies are sick of different forms of political hostility, malice and bitterness between the ruling party and the opposition.  On the other hand, the parliamentary system facilities political reconciliation, healing and national unity through coalition governments and parliamentary lobbying of partnership as both the opposition and ruling may need each other to make it work. In other words, a parliamentary system can and does facilitate for two or more winners as political partners or allies within a single term.

f. The presidential system is weak and vulnerable to military or civilians take over

The institutionalization of a presidential system is weak, vulnerable and unstable as the military or influential civilians can overthrow a sitting elected President within minutes or few days and thereby creating either political instability, national unrest or a failed state. For example, the case of Muhammad Mosi in Egypt or Colonel Gadhafi in Libya. On the other hand, a parliamentary system is more institutionalized and can be said to have a relatively stronger, stable and predictable government because the probability of suddenly overthrowing a group of electing MPs or Senators is difficulty and unthinkable for either citizens or the military while the periodical change of presidents or Prime Ministers may not affect political stability and national unity as the mode of replacement is in the hands of ruling party or coalition.

g. The presidential system is too expensive and cost for most African poor countries

A Presidential System of periodically voting for powerful sitting political leaders in Zambia and many African states is very expensive and cost for our Third World Countries in the region. Think about the cost of ballot papers, campaign materials, political  adverts, re-runs or presidential bye elections, etc every 4/5years against a background were Zambia just like many African States depend on donor support to conduct their periodical national elections? It means the presidential model and system is dependent on external partners and thereby not sustainable. On the other hand, a Parliamentary System is cheap, affordable and sustainable for Third World Countries as citizens mainly vote for political parties i.e. institutions via the local MPs, Senators or regional Councilors and the President or Prime Minister emerges from the ruling party/coalition.

h. The presidential system makes most powerful elected leaders more corrupt and less accountable

As earlier noted, a presidential system tends to create very powerful elected leaders who in turn are mandate to govern weak and in the case of Africa, poor and illiterate citizens with weak or compromised governance institutions such as the legislature, judiciary or civil society sector, this consequently tend to fuel a good and porous ground for many elected rulers to abuse public office and become baptized in the culture of gross corruption, financial mismanagement, political dishonest and ‘kleptocracy’.  For example, there are many past and present known Presidents and other top politicians in Zambia, DR Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria or Angola that have been caught on media cameras, courts and headlines on the subject of  abuse of public office, corruption, financial mismanagement, political dishonest and ‘kleptocracy’.

On the other hand, a parliamentary system will make African leaders less powerful as they will be made accountable and responsible to the ‘educated elected representatives’ of the citizens-the ruling party and parliament and this will in turn reduce or prevent many  cases and temptations of gross corruption, kleptocracy and abuse of public resources. In fact, the merit of a parliamentary system is curbing corruption has been defended by empirical research. In 2001, the World Bank sponsored three renowned scholars-Lederman, Loayza, and Soares to undertake a cross-country panel study with an objective of examining the determinants of corruption, paying particular attention to political institutions that increase political accountability. Overall, their observations and results concluded that political institutions are extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption with democracy, parliamentary systems, political stability and freedom of the press all being clearly associated with lower corruption practices as they increase accountability ( World Bank, 2001). Hence, in order for Zambia and Africa to fasten the process of democratic consolidation, the parliamentary system may be a better option than maintaining a presidential model.

i. The presidential system is broadly manipulative in poor and illiterate societies/states

Subjecting majority poverty stricken and illiterate citizens to periodically vote and elect a Republican President has made some rich and powerful Zambian/African Presidential politicians to bribe, manipulate and buy these vulnerable voters. High levels of poverty & illiteracy across Zambia/Africa makes most voters blind, weak and easily cheated and has sometimes  divided a country where a President wins in poor and illiterate rural areas but he is rejected among the educated/empowered urban citizens. For example, in 2006, Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa failed to win votes along line of rail of Livingstone, Lusaka, Kabwe, Ndola and Kitwe-considered as the main elite cities of the country but won voter supporter in most rural areas and consequently became what the urban voters called a ‘cabbage President of villagers, poor famers and illiterate hunters and not their President’. In a President System, it is not wrong to conclude that most voters especially in rural African areas vote for a ‘fake presidential candidate’- a rich, popular or powerful person they do not fully know except through political adverts, campaign materials or other manipulative propaganda mechanisms.

On the other hand, a parliamentary system will curtail, prevent and mitigate the practice of bribing and manipulating poor and illiterate voters especially in rural and densely populated areas as citizens vote for known local people as their members of parliament (MPs) or senators mostly on merit or known reasons. In the same vein, the debate and complaints of having rural illiterate and poor voters imposing an ‘illegitimate President’ on educated and employed urban elites who are heavily taxed by government will be reduced while media articles or headlines of the ‘Presidential Stolen Vote’ or ‘Post presidential election court petitions’ could be minimized and made history both in Zambia and other parts of the African region. Hence, the parliamentary model could be very important in facilitating democratic consolidation in the region as opposed to the Presidential System.

j. The presidential system has made democracy fail to consolidate in many African states

Systematic and critical empirical study clearly reveal that most African countries with the presidential governance democracy systems like Zimbabwe, Kenya, DR Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Chad, Somalia, Sudan, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Algeria, Gambia, Egypt, Niger, Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Central African Republic, Angola, Uganda,  Mozambique,  Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe, Cameroon or Burundi  have either a strong history or natural tendency to fall into post-election court petitions, ethnic tensions, regional divisions, political instabilities, military or constitutional coups, civil unrests and bloody internal conflicts.  On the other hand, 90% if not all African countries with parliamentary democracy governance systems like Mauritius, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho or Cape Verde are among the top five stable and best democracies on the continent. While presidential models struggle and stagger to stabilize and consolidate. You can check the ‘Democracy Index’ or the ‘Ibrahim Governance Index’ of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014.

k. Most stable and best democracies in the world are parliamentary and not presidential systems

Given that above 95% of the top 25 best, most stable, consolidated and workable full democracies in the world i.e. Sweden, Norway,  Iceland, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Switzerland,  Luxembourg, Australia,  Canada, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Malta, Japan, ‘United States of America’,  Israel, Czech Republic,  Belgium, United Kingdom,  Greece, Uruguay,  France and Portugal are parliamentary democracies, it generally means that parliamentary democracy has empirical justification to compel the African presidential democracies to emulate if the question of reviving, consolidating and sustaining democracy in the region was to become a political reality.  From this empirical evidence, it is not wrong to conclude that most advanced countries have seen and benefited from the experience of parliamentary systems as could explain why Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal or Japan abandoned the presidential system.

l. Western developed countries have evolved from Presidential to Parliamentary Democracies and not the opposite

Western developed and liberal countries of today have evolved from Presidential Systems to Parliamentary Democracies List ten stable and best democracies that have evolved from one democracy model to another? You will clearly discover that almost all of them have changed from powerful presidential systems to balanced and checked parliamentary democracies especially from the Second World War in the global North. United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Norway or Sweden.

Who can show us the opposite transition i.e. developed and stable democracies that have evolved from rejecting parliamentary democracy model to embracing a presidential democracy system? I doubt if there is any such example in the developed North. The most recent democracy projects that have directly been sponsored by the developed Western such as Israel or South Africa are parliamentary democracies and not presidential except in the case of South Sudan.

8. Conclusion.

Through critical literature review of the Republican Constitutions, books, journals and media reports, this paper has clear defined, differentiated, shown the cost, fragility, instability and danger of a presidential democracy system in relation to the strength and merits of a parliamentary democracy system and concluded that, in order to secure, deliver and sustain national unity, political stability and warrant democratic consolidation in Zambia just like in many African countries either under the 50 plus 1 or first past the post electoral regimes as well as with a presidential running mate or an appointed Vice President , there is need to consider adopting the parliamentary democracy system where the political party or coalition with majority seats in parliament forms government and its leader automatically or consequently becomes President or Prime Minister. This governance model is both important and necessary as the African President or Prime Minister will be made accountable and responsible to the ‘educated elected representatives’ of the citizens, reduce tension in countries that are ethnically diverse and regionally divided, resolve the political puzzle where poor and illiterate voters are subjected to periodically elect (select) a powerful political king over themselves, curtail the multiple challenges on how to replace the sitting President in case of becoming physically and mentally incapable to rule or premature death as well as save the much needed national resources for African poor countries that are not able to fully fund their own periodical presidential elections. The paper contended that with the parliamentary democracy system in place, all the nightmares of political hostility, fragility, vote rigging, ethnic divisions, presidential vote court petitions, national instability or periodical calls for regional secession, will either be reduced or made history for Zambia and Africa whether there is a presidential death, resignation or incapacitation while democratic consolidation will be both assured and secured.


The Republic of Zambian, Republican Constitution of 1996, Article 34, clause 1, National Assembly, Lusaka, Zambia, accessed from  http://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/zm/zm041en.pdf  retrieved 19/12/2014

The Republic of Zambian, Republican Constitution of 1996, Article 38, clause 1, National Assembly, Lusaka, Zambia, accessed from  http://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/zm/zm041en.pdf  retrieved 19/12/2014

Linz J.J, and A. Stepan, (‘1997). Towards Consolidated Democracies’, in ‘‘Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies: Themes and Perspectives’’, (Diamond. L, Plattner. M. F, Chu. Y and Tien. H, Eds), The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltmore.

O’Donnell. G, (1997) ‘Illusion about Consolidation’, in ‘‘Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies: Themes and Perspectives’’, (Diamond. L, Plattner. M. F, Chu. Y and Tien. H-Eds), The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltmore,

Schedler. A, (1996) ‘what is democratic consolidation?’, in ‘‘The global Divergence of Democracies’’, (Diamonds, L and Plattner F.M, Eds), The John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore

World Bank (2001), “Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter-World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2708”, World Bank.

Zimba C.Z, (2011), “Redemocratization of the Continent”, Outskirt Press: Colorado





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