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Why an Executive President in a democracy…

Publishing Date : 25 July, 2017

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In 1969 the then Vice President of Botswana  and then President of that country as from  1980-1998, the late Sir Kitumile Masire, locked horns with the local political elephant bull, Chief Bathoen of the Bangwaketse, who had just resigned as Chief to contest in the Kanye Constituency.

Sadly, the Vice President suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the former Chief .This fate could also befall the sitting President, it was observed. As a result, in 1972 there was a Constitutional amendment in the country, an amendment that repealed the requirement that a sitting President had to have a seat as an Elected or Specially Elected Member of the National Assembly. The Incumbent has thus become an ex-officio member of the National Assembly. Since then the President is not required to contest in National elections as an individual but is, instead, elected by Parliament.

 Against that background it is not uncommon that the Incumbent would emerge from a party that commands the majority in the National Assembly. This is not difficult to understand given the partisan nature of African politics; we normally consider a ‘team’ and not the prospective candidate’s personal attributes. And the tenure in office of the President is connected to that of Parliament. The electoral process of the President is tied up to that of Members of Parliament. The above political arrangement is referred to as a Parliamentary System of Democracy.

As noted above (the Masire issue),it does not always follow that if one is supported by members of the National Assembly one is automatically the darling of the populace. Members of Parliament are, impliedly voting on behalf of the country and that is highly undemocratic. It is because of this flaw that President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who is the least educated President in the world, for example, assumed the reins of power. In a Presidential Democracy, on the other hand, the show is run differently. Typical examples of such systems include the U.S, Malawi, Zambia and Kenya.

In these countries the President and MPs are elected separately. Indeed situations oftentimes occur when people cast votes in favor of a particular political party and do not vote that party’s leader into office. In the case of Zimbabwe the practice used to be Parliamentary elections every five years while Presidential ones were conducted every seven years. The new Constitutional arrangement is that the elections for the President, Members of Parliament and Councillors are now held concurrently and these are called Harmonized elections. The electorate chooses these prospective leaders at the same time.

Because the President has been directly elected by the people, the approach is very democratic. As such, he ought to be an all-powerful one. He thus becomes both head of both State and Government, Commander –in–Chief of the armed forces ;has appointing powers ;is immune to from prosecution ;has powers to :pardon criminals ; declare a state of emergency ,war and peace ;enter into treaties and  agreements with other countries on behalf of the state, among his many powers. All these powers are enshrined in the countries’ constitutions. The Leader is regarded the embodiment of the Constitution and must uphold it.

If he, however, acts ultra vires this document, he can also be taken to task by Parliament. Another safety valve against abuse of office is that there are functions which he must act either in consultation with or after consultation with other functionaries such as Cabinet ,the Judicial Service Commission ,the Public Service Commission etc(Read an article on the functions of Parliament that is on line).All these powers are a way of enabling or encouraging  our leader  to :perform his duties without the fear of ‘punishment’ and also make swift decisions in emergency cases ,among other grounds of justification. Having said all that, a President who has been directly elected by the people has lots of legitimacy in the eyes of the people and must be a towering giant above those selectively chosen by the August House in Parliamentary systems.



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