Resident Members of Parliament

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By Godfrey Chitalu

I have been following a dozen or so constituencies in regard to the selection process for potential Members of Parliament across the political divide. In both the ruling and major opposition parties, non-resident MPs have performed dismally. If this is a harbinger of future politics, the upcoming elections will be quite juicy. The rejection by grassroots, from internal primaries, speak volumes about the need to embrace residence as a major qualification for MPs.

Not to mention names, notable, absentee and non-resident MPs tumbled badly in primaries. As usual the electorate is waiting with bated breath, wondering how top heavy party systems, will extricate themselves from this impending malaise. Some ministers, largely because of spending time in the Capital at the expense of the constituency are also feeling the brunt of uncompromising local officials.

Like the tale of the boiling frog, no one saw this coming. Not once, did any of our elected officials raise this in that august house. With the electorates, this has been a growing and visible tide. MPs being residents in the constituency they are seeking office is an open secret. Just how this has not found itself in our statute books beats me.  

Is it because some unpopular candidates are ultimately favored by their national electoral colleges? Is top heavy selection of potential MPs a good route? While we know that local aspirants are having a field day in primaries, why do we forsake them, when it comes to national selection?

Unfortunately, our parliamentarians since time immemorial have not warmed to the idea of residency qualifications. When United Nations Independent Party won the 1968 elections with 81 out of 105 elected parliamentarians, non-residency was at play. Millennials might not fully fathom how Grey Zulu, Humphrey Mulemba and Sikota Wina won parliamentary seats in Kasama, Chipata and Luanshya respectively. With current polarized, tribal and regional leaning adoptions, this would not have been possible.

The caveat is that my push for considering residency as part of qualifications for MPs has nothing to do with regionalism. I would rather, modalities are fathomed with consensus on the need to have this enshrined as a core qualification. Most electorates seem agreed that lack of development at constituency level has party been exacerbated by non-resident and absentee MPs.  

We elect MPs to represent our constituency interests and concerns in Parliament. Unfortunately, those representatives who live outside the constituency are detached from realities on the ground. I have seen the electoral agony in those appointed as Ministers; seeing local unkempt lads garnering unassailable primary votes. Although it is known that eligible voters in a constituency select from within themselves, some of the contestants barely know their constituencies.

In the past few weeks, weve seen a surge in statements by political party leaders urging their MPs to visit their constituencies. This could have been unnecessary if the MPs were residents. No wonder most of them are tumbling in internal primaries because some have never even held a single meeting in certain wards. So it is not only a grade 12 certificate that is wreaking havoc! There other things at play. Indeed, what goes around, comes around. As teacher Mpamire would say, who wired who?

The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.

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