Legislative Party Discipline and Floor Voting Unity in the National Assembly of Zambia

Biggie Joe Ndambwa

Abstract

Dr. Patrick Matibini, Speaker of the National Assembly

The major aim of this article is to analyse the determinants of party discipline and floor voting unity in the Zambian parliament. This interest arises from the fact that a party discipline and floor voting unity are usually regarded as central in building a long a lasting representative democracy. Central to this theme is the impact that democratic change can have on a legislative stability. Despite the centrality of this aspect of political life, very little has been done in understanding the political dynamics that affect floor voting unity in most African parliaments. This article is based on personal interviews with key informants, some political party officials, some former members of parliament and retired politicians. The article also relies on newspapers and popular discussions on floor voting unity in the Zambian parliament. The article shows that the party discipline and floor voting is mostly affected by individual members’ desire for adoption in the next election. This has a profound impact on the nature and functioning of legislative authority. The paper contributes to institutionalisation model first proposed by Ulrich Sieberer. The theory is a major contribution to the development of viable political institutions in emerging nations and is an enduring contribution to modern political analysis. This article is an interesting and exciting addition to this theory. The paper also contributes to the discourse regarding legislative practice and floor voting unity in the Zambian parliament and discusses the subtleties of political power and demonstrates that in the case of Zambia, the exercise of party discipline and floor voting unity is mediated by the intervention and influence of environmental factors. Although this undermines the latitude of the legislature to smoothly pass legislation, it is key in institutional building and democratization.

Key Concepts: Party Discipline, Floor Voting Unity, Zambian Parliament

  1. INTRODUCTION

This article discusses the political determinants of party discipline and floor voting unity in the Zambia parliament. This interest arises from the fact that legislative party discipline and floor voting unity are regarded as key in building a long a lasting representative democracy. Despite the centrality of this aspect of political life, very little has been done in understanding the factors that can forestall legislative party discipline and floor voting unity in Zambia. This article demonstrates that party discipline is key determines floor voting unity. Specifically, we examine the nature of floor voting itself and then the political determinants of floor voting vis-à-vis other motivations to vote for or against a particular motion, particularly in regard to partisanship and the light thrown on the financial-pressure theory. In the concluding section, we propose a system of floor voting which will reduce the influence of government and political parties on members of parliament and their protection from undue harassment should they vote against their parties.

Undoubtedly, we must contend to the fact that is hard to envisage representative democracy with a unified floor voting system especially on important pieces of legislation, especially that Bill in question has to do with constitutional amendments.[1] In many respects, party floor voting unity is what is expected in a multiparty legislature and this we believe is a fundamental precondition for the development of a responsible government.[2] However, current and previous inquiry in this genre of comparative politics in Zambia and Africa at large has unexpectedly focused extensively on explaining patterns of unified party voting within a legislature by referring to forms of government without analysing determinants party floor voting unity.[3]

In addition, it is important to analyse beyond a mere description of the behaviour of members of parliament in relation to other motivations which may affect party voting unity. We believe that such analyses can help to build on the scarce exceptions that attempt to link party unity in the legislature and the varying degree of political influences that shape the behaviour of members of parliament.[4] This can also help scholarly progress towards a general theory of party floor voting unity that allows us to explain variation in the level of party voting unity not just between parties operating in the same political system.

This article is based on personal interviews with key informants with some political party officials, some former members of parliament and retired politicians. The article also relies on newspapers and popular discussions on members of parliament in general and their relationship with their parties in particular, especially current circumstances surrounding Constitution Amendment Bill 10 of 2019. The paper discusses the subtleties of political power and demonstrates that in the case of Zambia, the exercise of legislative power and authority by members of parliament is mediated by the intervention and influence of political parties. Although this undermines the latitude of members of parliament to exercise their own judgement in debating and voting on motions, it is, as already pointed out a major key in the development of government by compromise and consensus.

  • NATURE OF FLOOR VOTING IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

The basis of legislative voting in Zambia is provided for in the Constitution of Zambia[5] (Amendment Act 2 of 2016) and the National Assembly of Zambia Standing Orders (2016) and the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct (Act No 35 of 1994). Article 62 of the Constitution of Zambia vests legislative authority in parliament while article 77 empowers the National Assembly of Zambia to regulate its own procedures, including legislative voting procedures, by making Standing Orders for the conduct of its legislative business. The current rules on practice and procedure on floor voting are to be found in the National Assembly of Zambia Standing Orders (2016).[6]

All business to be brought before the National Assembly is preceded by a Notice of a Motion, which avails the members of parliament as opportunity to bring to the attention of the House a motion he or she intends to move in future.[7] These notices are delivered to the office of the Clerk of the National Assembly, which are then circulated with votes and proceedings.

The rules governing the accountability of members of parliament are contained in the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct (Act Number 35 of 1994) as established under the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment Act Number 2 of 2016) and the National Assembly Standing Orders 2016. Under this Act, members of parliament;

  • are not allowed to use their positions knowingly to acquire any pecuniary advantage or assist in the acquisition of pecuniary advantage by another person for riches;
  • are supposed to declare pecuniary interest to the Assembly (also provided in Standing Order No 52);
  • are supposed to declare interest in Government Contracts; and
  • who holders of Ministerial Offices are supposed to annually declare their assets, liabilities and within thirty (30) days after each anniversary of his or her appointment.

In terms of actual floor voting, members of parliament are accountable to their electorates and their respective parties.[8] In this sense, members of parliament who are members of political parties believe that their party policies or political positions on particular motions are the correct ones though they may disagree in few matters.[9] This because most candidates are voted to parliament with the endorsement of their political parties. In some constituencies, it is almost impossible to have independent members of parliament. As a result, a member of parliament has a responsibility to vote with his or her party and to articulate party policies both to the constituency and to the National Assembly.[10] This accountability is not just on floor voting, it is extended to their constituencies, which a member of parliament represents.

The analysis which follows was prompted by the belief that floor voting accountability in the National Assembly of Zambia is more rationally ordered when party discipline serves as a short-hand term to influence a member of parliament to immediately or not in his voting decisions. The presumption is the familiar responsible party discipline argument party responsibility in turn, some evidence suggests, is fostered under a competitive party system where the constituencies that elect the candidates of one party are reasonably homogeneous and recognizably different from the constituencies that elect the candidates of the other parties.[11] The extent to which the constituency conditions are supposedly favorable to a particular party responsibility are actually correlate with behaviour of legislators in Zambia is little known. Accordingly, the purpose of this article is to analyse the links to be found between party and constituency characteristics and party voting unity when parliament is in session.

  • DETERMINANTS OF FLOOR VOTING UNITY

The behaviour of members of parliament vis-à-vis floor voting unity in the National Assembly of Zambia, like in any legislature is determined by several political factors. First, the 2021 general elections are just about 18 months away. Most incumbent members of parliament would want to be re-elected. However, to get re-elected candidates will have to put their names to respective political parties for adoption. The behaviour of members of parliament is mostly influenced by the political process for candidate adoption within political parties.[12] Despite the fact that the process by which candidates for parliamentary elections are selected and/or re-selected remains one of the most overlooked aspects of Zambian politics, its impact is far-reaching as far as building consensus on floor voting.[13]

We think that if re-election is the goal of incumbent members of parliament, then the proximate aim is to get re-adopted as a candidate – in effect to secure access to the ballot, or as high as possible a position in government. To us, these presents a real political bargain for party floor voting unity in the National Assembly of Zambia. However, we should note here that the critical issue relates not just to ballot access but the ability to be associated with the party label. For instance, while an incumbent member of parliament may easily access a ballot by paying a registration fee, it is how much the party leadership controls access to the party label for prospective candidates for parliamentary elections that has a significant political impact on behaviour of members of parliament.[14]

In line with our argument, political scientists Sam DePauw and Shane noted that what an incumbent legislator must do to be re-adopted for the next parliamentary elections is likely to influence his or her legislative strategies and role orientation.[15] We agree, but of course we understand that processes of candidate adoption in an African country like Zambia are complex undertakings, involving multiple dimensions and even more political and social players. In all these, at least the political dimensions of inclusiveness and centralization of the adoption process are significant. By “inclusiveness of the adoption process,” we mean the number of political players that are part of the adoption process, and by “centralization of the adoption process” we imply the degree of control the top party leadership has over the (re-)adoption process vis-à-vis other players, most commonly local, constituency, district and sometimes provincial party officials. This we think is key concern for members of parliament even as they consider voting on any motion.

However, we believe that as much as the impact of the ‘party-centeredness’ of adoption rules may logically alters the behaviour of members of parliament and in particular the risk of not being adopted by the top party leadership, party competition affects legislative strategies and role orientation of members of parliament.[16] In essence, party unity in floor voting is be lower in political parties where legislative candidates compete against co-partisans for adoption at constituency levels with little influence from top party officials. But in political parties where candidates compete against co-partisans for personal votes with parties where nominations are controlled by party leaders. In addition, rules of fair electoral completion for adoption in parliamentary elections are not a real to predict unity in floor voting in political parties.[17]

It is also interesting to note that the defection rate of Zambian members of parliament from their national parties is more affected by candidate-centred rules than decentralised adoption procedures.[18] The latter effect is in the predicted direction, but not politically significant. Therefore, although unity in party floor voting is slightly higher in parties where the top leadership has some formal control over candidate adoption, and that candidate selection is a better predictor of unity in party floor voting in the National Assembly of Zambia, long term party membership cannot be sustained as evidenced by higher defection rates in such political parties in Zambia. Therefore, we predict a direct causal link between the degree of control party leaders exert over the candidate re-adoption process and the level of unified party voting.

Text Box:  In my analysis of the impact of the degree of centralization on adoption process, I use five-point ordinal scale first proposed by Lindell.[19]

However, we must contend that comprehensive evidence on the inclusiveness of the adoption process in Zambian political parties is generally lacking is not easy to extrapolate. Nonetheless, its influence on the adoption process can be felt in the structure of a political party itself. There are two sides to this argument regarding the structure of the party. First party unity is greater in mass membership parties than in parties where the membership organisation is not the dominant decision-making centre.[20] The second side of that argument is that a mass membership is sufficient – dominant or not in the party. As the proportion of the party electorate that is also a member of the party increases, party unity is expected to decrease: mass membership is not only a unifying force, it is also likely to be more diverse and thus provide dissenting members cover.[21]

The other determinant for party floor voting unity in Zambia is prospects for promotion.[22] In this respect, the motivation to vote with the party may very well extend beyond the desire to get re-adopted in 2021.[23] For example, members of parliament may feel secure if they have information that they will be re-adopted or re-elected which may alter their aspirations. Our premise is that once elected, members of parliament are strongly motivated by the desire to gain leadership positions within the party, which they hope would ultimately lead to a ministerial position.[24] Since cabinet in Zambia is composed of members of parliament floor voting unity in the house is higher in the party which controls the presidency.[25] Therefore, we think that staffing the cabinet in Zambia probably explains why floor voting of ruling party legislators is uniform compared to those in opposition parties.

To buttress our argument, members of parliament that are not willing to contest the next elections in 2021 may not care greatly about re-adoption and re-election. They may be motivated by the desire to gain even higher political office within their respective political parties or government. Such political office is typically at the discretion of the party leader or the president. In effect, the party top leadership use the potential for promotion to the government or party positions as a form of bet over individual members of parliament. The tight grip typically held over the legislative agenda by the cabinet makes individual cabinet ministers the  cream prime initiators of policies – almost to the exclusion of all other members of parliament.[26]

While the practice of promoting legislators to political positions may differ from one political party to another, we believe that promotion is mostly in the hands of the top party leadership. This, we think, provides a powerful incentive for motivated politicians not to dissent from the party leadership in legislative votes.  The more opportunities that exist for promotion, the more legislators will be inclined to yield to the party leadership. We argue therefore, that where legislators stand a stronger chance of being promoted to the ranks of government party voting will be more unified. Where the prospects for leadership are more limited, individual legislators are more likely to rebel against the party leadership, resulting in lower levels of unified party voting.

It is worth noting that this argument is not restricted to governing Patriotic Front party. In most circumstances, even MPs from opposition parties will be acutely aware that their party may be in government at some point in the future and if or when that time arrives the party leadership may look to them. Hence, we expect to see governing party MPs and opposition MPs responding to the varying prospects for higher political office. Nevertheless, the promise of promotion may play out differently in the ruling and opposition political parties as that promise is more uncertain as it lies further in the future.

  • CONCLUDING REMARKS

To conclude, we believe that Zambia has developed strong parties whose members vote collectively within the legislature. This has long been understood as a necessary element of parliamentary government. Previous attempts to account for variation in legislative party unity have focused on presidential versus parliamentary forms of government as being the main explanation for cross-national variation. Our aim in this article has been to point to the fact that Zambian political parties display variation in the level of legislative voting unity – something which cannot be accounted for by relying on vague financial motivations and conjectures. Beyond a mere acknowledgment of this fact, our aim has been to explain this variation in party unity within political parties.

However, financial incentives and the motivation cultivate a personal enrichment encourage some MPs to defect from the party line. Through centralized selection rules, where the party top leadership has greater control over the future of incumbents, appears to result in higher party voting unity than short term financial benefits. The opportunity for promotion to government positions, and in particular the opportunity to enter cabinet, is a tempting offer to maintain unity in the National Assembly of Zambia. The evidence also suggests that legislators in Zambia are motivated by the desire to be promoted and not just the desire for money. This result might point to a significant need for further research in this field and one that needs to be more explained at the theoretical and empirical level.

About the Author

  1. The author is lecturer in political science at the University of Zambia. He specializes in political theory and comparative politics and is interested in electoral politics, legislative processes, political parties and democratic theory. His recent work is “Electoral Integrity and Democratic Consolidation” in Democracy and Electoral Politics in Zambia, (Leiden: Brill, 2020)

References

Constitution of Zambia (Amendment Act No 2 of 2016)

Democracies’, Journal of Legislative Studies, 3: 155-174.

DePauw, Sam and Martin, Shane. Legislative Party Discipline and Cohesion in Comparative Perspective in

Hix, S. (2004) ‘Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: Explaining Voting-Defection in the European Parliament’, World Politics, 56: 194-223.

Lindell, K. Determinants of Candidate Selection, Party Politics, 10: 25-47, 2004.

National Assembly of Zambia Standing Orders (2016)

Ndambwa, Biggie Joe. Institutionalisation of Legislative Leadership in The National Assembly of Zambia, 1964-2011. Dissertation, The University of Zambia, 2015

News Diggers March 20th, 2020

Rahat, G., and Hazan, R. Y. (2001) ‘Candidate Selection Methods: An Analytic Framework’, Party Politics, 7: 297–322.

Simutanyi, Neo. Parties in Parliament1The Relationship between Members of Parliament and their Parties in Zambia. EISA Occasional Paper No 36, Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, 2005

Strøm, K. (1997) ‘Rules, Reasons, and Routines: Legislative Roles in Parliamentary

Endnotes


[1] Neo Simutanyi, Parties in Parliament1The Relationship between Members of Parliament and their Parties in Zambia (EISA Occasional Paper No 36, Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, 2005)

[2] Sam DePauw and Shane Martin, Legislative Party Discipline and Cohesion in Comparative Perspective in

[3] Biggie Joe Ndambwa, Institutionalisation of Legislative Leadership in The National Assembly of Zambia, 1964-2011. Dissertation, The University of Zambia, 2015

[4] Neo Simutanyi, Parties in Parliament1The Relationship between Members of Parliament and their Parties in Zambia (EISA Occasional Paper No 36, Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, 2005)

[5] Constitution of Zambia (Amendment Act No 2 of 2016)

[6] National Assembly of Zambia Standing Orders (2016)

[7] Biggie Joe Ndambwa, Institutionalisation of Legislative Leadership in The National Assembly of Zambia, 1964-2011. Dissertation, The University of Zambia, 2015

[8] National Assembly of Zambia. The Parliament of Zambia: Public Parliamentary Handbook, National Assembly of Zambia, March 2004

[9] Authors interview with a former member of parliament

[10] National Assembly of Zambia. The Parliament of Zambia: Public Parliamentary Handbook, National Assembly of Zambia, March 2004

[11]Hugh L. LeBlanc, Voting in State Senates: Party and Constituency Influences Midwest Journal of Political Science, Feb., 1969, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Feb., 1969), pp. 33-57

[12] Sam DePauw and Shane Martin, Legislative Party Discipline and Cohesion in

[13] Neo Simutanyi, Parties in Parliament: The Relationship between Members of Parliament and their Parties in Zambia (EISA Occasional Paper No 36, Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, 2005)

[14] Ibid

[15] Sam DePauw and Shane Martin, Legislative Party Discipline and Cohesion in

[16] Ibid

[17]Hix, S. (2004) ‘Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: Explaining Voting-Defection in the European Parliament’, World Politics, 56: 194-223.

[18] Neo Simutanyi, Parties in Parliament1The Relationship between Members of Parliament and their Parties in Zambia (EISA Occasional Paper No 36, Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, 2005)

[19] Lindell

[20] Sam DePauw and Shane Martin, Legislative Party Discipline and Cohesion in

[21] Interview with former a politician

[22] Sam DePauw and Shane Martin, Legislative Party Discipline and Cohesion in

[23] Strom Rules, Reasons, and Routines: Legislative Roles in Parliamentary 1997

[24] Authors’ interview with a former member of parliament

[25] Authors’ interview with a former cabinet minister

[26] Authors’ interview with a former member of parliament

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