Sunday, 31 July 2016

Lessons Zambian Parties Can Learn From US Party Conventions

FRONTRUNNERS: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
By Paul Shalala in Syracuse, New York

The past two weeks have been very political on all major TV networks here in the United States.

This is the period when the two major political parties, the Democratic and Republican parties, hold their conventions to select their nominees for the November 8 Presidential election.

These conventions were covered live by all major TV networks.

A week ago, the Republicans held their convention in Cleveland, Ohio where real estate mogul Donald Trump was confirmed as the party’s nominee.

This past week, it was the turn for the Democrats who converged in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where they nominated former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the party’s torch bearer for the polls.

Having found myself glued to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC throughout these past weeks, I have learnt about party conventions in the US.

I have also noted a number of parallels with the way conventions are held back home.
In this article, I will try to bring out some of the issues that I feel can help foster democracy and perfect the intra-party democracy in the great nation of Zambia.

The Nomination Process

The nomination of a presidential nominee is a long process in the USA.

Prospective candidates or their supporters form what are called PACs (Political Action Committees) way before the actual nomination process begins.

Because elections in the US are expensive, candidates are expected to raise a lot of money to fund their campaigns and publish the figures for transparency’s sake.

The PACs are usually in the forefront raising millions of dollars to help the campaigns, but by law, they cannot raise more than a certain limit.

In the early stages, candidates hold town hall meetings, address rallies and issue political statements.

The media later gets involved and organise debates.

For example, last year when the TV debates commenced, some Republican candidates were left out because opinion polls had shown that they had no enough nationwide support for them to debate live on TV.

Then comes the primaries and caucus in all the fifty states of the USA.

In these contests, mere party members vote among their candidates just like in a national election.
An American voting during primary elections

Voters are only eligible to vote in the primaries if they are registered as a member of a certain party in the area and they cannot vote across party lines except in a normal election.

Both the Democrats and Republican simultaneously have these primaries and caucuses.

Rules are different from state to state but the nomination process is such that a candidate can only become a nominee in the Democratic party if he or she polls at least 2,382 delegates during the campaigns.

For the Republicans, the magic number is 1,237 delegates.

Just like during the US Presidential election where voters don’t vote direct for the candidate but vote for people who form the electoral college, voters in a caucus vote for people who will elect the party’s nominee at the convention.

It should be noted that in this process, there are delegates who are bound with their vote and once they vote, they cannot change their mind in case the nomination process is contested at the convention.

There are also super delegates, especially among democrats, who are free to choose for themselves and can change their vote as and when they feel like.

It is a complicated procedure which Donald Trump, when he was still the Republican party’s presumptive nominee, described as a ‘rigged’ process.

If during the Caucuses none of the candidates amasses enough votes to reach the threshold to become the party’s nominee, then the issue can be taken to the floor of the convention and hold what American call a contested convention.

Basically, at a contested convention, candidates will start lobbying delegates for fresh votes until a nominee is elected.

Parallel to this, in Zambia the selection of a party’s presidential candidate is done at a convention with delegates (party officials) from all the ten provinces meeting in one place and voting.

In Zambia we call those wishing to contest on the party ticket as presidential aspirants while in the US they call them presidential candidates.

When the party chooses the person to represent them in the elections, in Zambia we call them presidential candidates but in the US it’s a party nominee.

What I have learnt from the nomination process in the US is that local people (not party officials in Zambia) have the responsibility of choosing their party nominees.

This is power to the people.

Selection Of Vice President Nominee

Just like in Zambia where we now have a Vice President who is a running mate to the President candidate, Americans also have a running mate who they call Nominee Vice President or Vice President Nominee.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence
The selection for this nominee in the US is a secret but slow process.

It involves interviews for possible candidates and doing a lot of background checks.
The media is kept at bay but there is always speculation as to who is likely to be picked.

Back home, the selection of a running mate is a preserve of the party president.

All the nine running mates for the August 11 Presidential polls were selected by the Presidential candidates with little or no input from their respective parties.

In our context, this is done to give the presidential candidate the freedom to choose the person they will be comfortable to work with.

In the US, the Vice Presidential nominee is supposed to add value and some level of support to the party nominee.

In 2008, Democratic nominee Barack Obama, a first term Senator from Illinois chose Joe Bide as his vice president nominee to help him add foreign policy credentials to his campaign and experience in running affairs of government.

This year, we have seen Donald Trump choosing Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana as his Vice President.
Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine

He did so because Pence has some public service credentials which the wealthy New York businessman lacks.

For Hillary Clinton, she chose Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia because he is seen as a conservative who can appeal to frustrated Republicans and eat away part of Trump’s possible votes.

Added to that, Senator Kaine speaks Spanish and can bring on board millions of Hispanics who fear Trump following his promise to crackdown on undocumented migrants, mostly Mexicans.

The Role Of Losing Candidates

Following the conclusion of the long and painful period of selecting a party’s nominee, the tradition in the US is that losing candidates rally behind the nominee and work for the good of their party.
Bernie Sanders

In 2008 when Obama beat Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s nominee, the former New York Senator gave a moving speech at the Democratic National Convention and endorsed the man who would later become the first ever African-American President.

This year, we saw this same tradition manifesting itself.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who lost to Clinton, made a moving speech at the convention and endorsed the former First Lady.
Ted Cruz after he addressed the Republican convention

He even moved a motion to unanimously endorse her as the party’s flag bearer in the November poll.

Senator Sanders did this despite thousands of his supporters who called on him to continue his ‘revolution’ to reform Wall Street, reform healthcare and the education system.

His supporters kept chanting ‘Bernie’ ‘Bernie’ ‘Bernie’ but in the spirit of unity, he put aside his interest and endorsed his rival.

Even after the leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee showing revealing the party leadership’s preference for Clinton, Senator Sanders attended the four day convention and was part of all proceedings.

John Kasich
However, on the Republican side, the losing candidate Ted Cruz did the actual opposite.

When he was given chance speak at the convention, the Senator from Texas reassured his supporters of his continued fight but he did not endorse Trump.

This however did not go well with Trump supporters who booed him.

Other losing presidential candidates John Kasich and Jeb Bush did not pitch up at the convention.

Despite hosting the convention, Kasich, the Governor of Ohio where the Republican National Convention was held in the city of Cleveland, refused to attend the four day event saying Trump was a wrong candidate for the party.
Jeb Bush

Despite these two parallel scenarios, the Zambian picture is usually different.
Most aspirants who are left out of the presidential race leave their parties and join others or better still form their own parties.

Currently, we have several parties formed by individuals who had presidential ambitions but were beaten by other candidates.

The lesson I learnt from losing candidates here is that politicians must be attached to their parties because of ideology and not the need for them to be on the Presidential ballot.

The Role Of Families

From my research, families seem to play a big role in the campaigns in the US.

Take for example the Trump family which is heavily involved in every aspect of the Republican campaign.
The Trump Family

Trump’s wife Melania, his children Ivanka, Eric, Tiffany and Trump Jr spoke at the convention.

Even though Melania’s speech plagiarised Michelle Obama’s speech she delivered in 2008, her role at the convention was very prominent.

The Trump children are also said to have been very much involved in the dismissal of a number of campaign leaders and in shaping their father’s public image and utterances.

In particular, Ivanka has been telling his father to be more ‘presidential’ and avoid his outbursts on almost everything.

According to recent US media reports, Ivanka’s name even popped up among the possible Vice President nominees for her father due to her influence.
The Clinton Family

In the Clinton camp, her husband Bill and their only child Chelsea are also fully involved in the campaigns.

Bill, the former US President, has been holding campaigns rallied for his wife, hoping to woo her more support and become the first ever US President to also serve as First Gentleman, a title given to men who are married to female Presidents.

Chelsea, now a mother of two, spoke at the Convention and painted her mother as a caring parent, determined lawyer and public servant who dedicates her life to serving others.

Back home, relatives of presidential candidates are usually not allowed to be in the forefront of campaigns for fear of it being seen as a family affair.

Protests At Conventions

America is often referred to as the land of the free.

During the two respective conventions, organisers had to deal with protesters both inside and outside the convention halls.
Supporters display Sanders posters at the convention

At the Democratic National Convention, the protesters were supporters of Senator Sanders who felt cheated by their party following the leak of emails which exposed the long suspected ‘fixing’ of the delegate count to ensure Clinton clinches the nomination.

Inside the Convention hall, some delegates, especially in the first three days, carried posters of the Vermont Senator and kept shouting his name as countless people spoke.

At some point, even people addressing the event had to pause a bit due to the protesters’ determination to be heard.

Even when President Barack Obama addressed the event on Wednesday, he recognised their efforts: “Let’s be as vocal as Bernie’s supporters.”

Outside the convention hall, dozens of supporters of Senator Sanders held their protests and occasionally clashed with Police.

At the Republican National Convention a week earlier, protesters showed up both inside and outside the convention hall.

Inside the hall, supporters of Senator Cruz were vocal and most of them were from his home state of Texas.  

Protesters outside the Republican Convention
Outside the convention hall, people from all walks of life protested against Trump’s campaign messages such as building a wall on the Mexican border, his mocking of disabled people and derogatory statements against women.

Despite all this, the rights of the protesters were respected because: America is a land of the free.

But can such protests from supporters of losing presidential candidates be tolerated in our Zambia at party conventions?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Intelligence Briefings and Secret Service Protection

In America, when a political party chooses its nominee, that person is entitled to receiving occasional intelligence briefings which the President of the USA also receives.

However, the intelligence is limited and not much is given to them.

This is done to make them aware of the threats the country is facing and prepare them for possible office.

On top of that, presidential candidates are also given secret service protection.
This is done to protect them from possible threats as they transverse the country to woo voters.

The Secret Service is a security agency which offers security to the US President, Vice President and their families.

Elections and the Transition

Now that the Republicans have settled for Donald Trump and the Democrats picked Clinton, the die has been cast.
Dr. Jill Stein

But these are not the only candidates who complete the presidential ballot for November 8.

The Green Party is floating a medical doctor Jill Stein while the Libertarian Party has nominated former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.

The four will be subjected to more than two live debates between now and November.

These intense and long debates are an avenue through which voters hear policies and campaign messages.

Pollsters also use these debates as an opportunity to ask voters what they think about their candidates’ standing on various issues and then they collect opinion polls.

Gary Johnson
Whoever wins on November 8 will have to work with President Obama’s administration (government) during the transition period until he or she is sworn in on January 20, 2017

Usually, the President-elect chooses a transition team which works with the outgoing administration to smoothen the transition process before the inauguration.


Conventions in the US are an important aspect of intra-party democracy.

They bring together party members who listen to speeches from various people.

The speakers are both party members and non party members.

With various things Zambian politicians can learn from the US, it is important that true democracy is embraced when selecting presidential candidates.

American democracy is today seen to be one of the best because it has evolved over the past 240 years since the country’s founding fathers kicked out the English colonialists.

Zambia’s democracy is only 25 years old and it is still growing.

Even though our democracy maybe in its infancy, we the Zambians have demonstrated to the world that we are free thinkers, we respect the verdict of the people through the ballot box, political parties which lose power easily hand over government to the victor and our transitions are always peaceful.

Americans may have perfected their democracy but we too are on course and one day we will reach there.


  1. I didnt know about these two political Parties but now I know and that is big up to the Zambian Analyst.......The Green Party is floating a medical doctor Jill Stein while the Libertarian Party has nominated former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.

    1. Thanks The Speech Analyst. The American media misleads the world by only covering the two major parties. Only Aljazeera covers the minor parties

  2. Great write-up. There are alot of things we can learn from the American process.

    1. Thanks alot boss. Its true we can pick up a lot to learn

  3. Bernie, and Donald have complained that the system is rigged, I was hoping you would touch on that expecially that you hold the US democracy as perfect. Thanks for the writeup, very informative, you covered lots of bases.

  4. How I wished our politicians are listening to your observation. Looking forward to such a time when opposition leaders can be protected and accorded intelligence briefings as you have highlighted.probably the violence and hate speech can minimiz . Definitely such time will come. Thanks a lot for the information. I have learnt a lot from your blog

    1. Thanks alot boss. One day we shall reach that level

  5. How I wished our politicians are listening to your observation. Looking forward to such a time when opposition leaders can be protected and accorded intelligence briefings as you have highlighted.probably the violence and hate speech can minimiz . Definitely such time will come. Thanks a lot for the information. I have learnt a lot from your blog

  6. Good write up! I agree with you on two things, Zambia is a young democracy but must learn to safeguard the principals of democracy and promote good governance.I also agree with you that freedom of speech in the US is very respected, and thats important for the electorate.I have to disagree with you though on a few things! To start with, this is a bad year to revel in american democracy! Apart from people saying they will fix it, there’s been no real policy based debates, just candidate based rhetoric! While Zambians are trying to discourage tribalism, one party here is preaching division based on religion and race. Character assassination isn't different from what people see in Zambia! And you say the local people decide? Well, what about the 2000 election where Al Gore won the popular vote but still lost the general election to Bush?

    1. Thanks for your response. Appreciate so much Mr Chali