Logic of running mates

During the drafting stage, a crucial question that had not been tackled by during the outreach program confronted Copac. The question related to who takes over as President should a serving president resign, or is successfully impeached or dies while in office.

Four suggestions were offered. The first was that a political party from which the president hailed would supply the new president. The second was that the Parliament would sit as an electoral college and vote for the new president. The third was that there could be a presidential by election while the fourth was that the vice president would take over under a running mate system.

The option that a party from which the president hailed would supply the replacement president is inherently undemocratic. It does not allow the general populace to determine who their next president would be but leaves this crucial determination to one political party. This clearly compromises the legitimacy of the incoming president.

The option that the Parliament sits as an electoral college and elects a replacement president was also seriously looked at. However, just like the political party option, it leaves the decision of who would be the next president to the very few people in parliament. Further this system could be open to corruption and bribery as candidates would have very few people to deal with.

In this regard corrupt but rich candidates would have a very easy task of corruptly bribing fellow members of Parliament. During the reelection of the Speaker of Parliament for example there were allegations of certain politicians offering bribes of $5000 to Members of Parliament to vote for a particular candidate. More shocking figures are likely to be offered in the event of a presidential election in parliament.

The third option was that of the Presidential by election. This would involve the organization of a full presidential by election. Clearly this is an expensive option and the expense is less justified where a president dies with six months to go to the end of his term and therefore to the general election.

However given the realities in our political system, a presidential by election could trigger serious political contestation and violence in political parties which do not have clear succession policies. Further at a national level it could lead to unprecedented violence similar to what happened during the 2008 Presidential runoff election. Thus in a country with a propensity to violent elections this option is very risky.

The last option was that of the running mate. Under this option a presidential candidate announces his or her choice of vice president or vice presidents before the actual election. In the event of two vice presidents, the presidential candidate designates one of them as the First Vice President and the other as the Second vice President. In the event of the president dying or leaving office for any other reason then the vice president automatically takes over as president.

In so far as people vote for a president with the full knowledge of who the vice president is going to be, they automatically accept or reject the vice president or vice presidents by their act of voting for or against the presidential candidate. It should be accepted that the popularity or otherwise of the vice president can affect the mind of the voters on whether or not they should vote for a particular presidential candidate. Thus a presidential candidate who selects an unpopular running mate inevitably puts his or her campaign at obvious risk. Thus under this system, the people vote for a president and therefore the vice president with " their eyes open".

One way of looking at the running mate option is simply hatthe president appoints his vice president or vice presidents before the election rather than after the election. It is believed that this system is cheaper and more peaceful as it does not involve the arrangement of full election to fill the vacancy caused by the president's departure. It also leaves the replacement president with unquestionable legitimacy.

The running mate system has been exercised in a number of countries with very impressive record of success. After the assassination of President Kennedy in the United States of America, the vice president took over because of the running mate system. This takeover was very smooth. In Malawi after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, vice president Joice Banda took over while in Ghana after the death of Prsident John Atta-Mills, the vice president Mahama took over because of the running mate system. In all the countries cited above the transition was peaceful.

The main attractions of the running mate system are that it is cheaper, it guarantees legitimacy of the replacement president, it involves the electorate and it has been known to work as it guarantees a smooth transfer of power from one president to another. That is why the Copac draft has settled for the running mate system.

Post published in: Analysis

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