By DARLINGTON CHILUBA
THE previous article briefly detailed how sovereignty is cushioned in the United States of America (USA), the Republic of South Africa, Russia and Kenya.
Interesting was that some nations preferred to identify sovereignty in terms of national values such as equality and human advancement, while others enshrined it as privilege granted to government by the people through the voting system.
This second part takes on the issue of executive power as enshrined in various constitutions in respect of the Presidency only.
- In Zambia, Part VII and Article 90 of Zambian law gives that ‘The Executive authority derives from the people of Zambia…’ The idea is presidential power is a prerogative of the people.
- In the USA, Article II of Section 1 reads that ‘The Executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term…elected…’
- In China, Section 2 and Article 79 of their law states that ‘The President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China are elected by the National People’s Congress.’
- In Russia, ‘The President of the Russian Federation shall be elected for six years by citizens of the Russian Federation on the basis of universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot.’
- In South Africa, Article 86 (1) reads that ‘At its first sitting after its election, and whenever necessary to fill a vacancy, the National Assembly must elect a woman or a man from among its members to be the President.’
Arguably, the major reason Zambia emphasises the people as the source of presidential power is its despotic history of 27 years in which the law made people redundant passengers than participants in national affairs.
The struggle for democracy and its emphatic triumph over dictatorship became a reference point and reminder of people power over autocratic rulership.
As such, the current law is a culmination of Constitutional changes made in post-democratic Zambia (August 1991 and 1996) to restore and affirm the rights and freedoms of people to be at the fore of national affairs so that each person is valued and never again downtrodden.
The text is really a document of people power led by pioneers of the 1991 democratic revolution. Such is the anchor and historical context executive power in Zambia.
In the US, the power of their institution resonates strongly. For example, their Article 1 grants Congress all legislative powers in that country, including presidential impeachment.
Congress acts as a countercheck for (perceived) excessive executive authority. This separation of powers which is admired globally is meant to benefit US citizens.
When, for instance, the US goes to war abroad it does so with full congressional approval. Any discord between the presidency and congress is typically for their domestic environment whether over health insurance, inflation and so on.
On foreign policy, the institution acts firmly in established unison for prescribed American interests irrespective of which president is in office.
The South African and Chinese systems are slightly similar in one respect were the ruling party elects the head of state to assume executive power. Because of this, their political parties tend to have more influence than is possible in other nations.
It is also tempting to add that people vote for a system (or political dogma) than persons and personalities. The party nurtures leaders who can, in some cases, be recalled if the political party does not hold them in favour anymore.
In South Africa, for example, two sitting presidents have been recalled by their political party, not parliament, per se, from holding the executive office of president in September 2008 and ten years later February 13, 2018.
This overarching power of the ruling party to appoint a president, sometimes, without going for national elections is familiar to China, and interestingly in Europe.
For instance, the conservative party in England has elected one of their own members to the executive office of Prime Minister without going for national elections since 2016.
Their last Prime Ministers few leaders have been elected at party than national election. The similarities do not go any further between England and China largely due to their vastly different histories.
The Russian constitution is a progressive text of evolution and balance between old and new thinking. The Russian federation is a recurring theme in their constitution and the structure of state speaks to their philosophy of socialism and capitalism. Russia is, after all, the home of socialism and its tenets of equality among the masses. However, there appears a movement towards direct voter representation on ‘universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot’. Herein lies the balance of identity so that those who vote elect an individual who serves in a historically and fundamentally socialist system.
This attempted balance between democratic and socialist principles seems to be absent in the Chinese constitution because their text is consistent with their homegrown communist philosophy. In that context – and philosophically – the state and the people are one. Even when we suggest that China and South Africa’s constitutions could be interpreted the same way, their domestic milieus would disagree because one is a representative parliamentary democracy while the other, China, is communist.
In fact, an easier comparison is between China and Russia, which are slightly more socially homogenous, without extensive social complexities like the US and South Africa. Again, these are theoretical comparisons.
The best attempt to sum up this second discussion is that values cannot be imported. Constitutions can be changed domestically to reflect social configurations that are home-grown. But to import social values may create a constitution that is either indifferent or aloof to the people it is meant to govern and protect.