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The Alternation Fallacy: Turnover without Transformation in Zambia (1991-2015)



Change log


Ismail, Zenobia 


Zambia is one of only three countries in southern Africa which has experienced two alternations, but there has been little institutional reform since independence. A time-based comparison of Zambia’s constitution, legislation and institutions from 1991 to 2015 is conducted because the ‘moving picture’ reveals continuities which tend to be overlooked by a ‘snapshot’ analysis. New incumbents are reluctant to relinquish the increasing returns derived from executive dominance and weak oversight institutions such as the national assembly and judiciary. Therefore, institutional weaknesses from Zambia’s one-party state have infiltrated the multi-party era, where they continue to blur the separation of powers.
Factionalism stemming from ethnic polarisation, which emerged in the colonial era, undermines all ruling parties in Zambia. The study finds that succession contests, triggered by term limits or the deaths of sitting presidents, are the primary mechanism which repeatedly weakens dominant parties. The outcomes of such intra-party conflicts have far-reaching consequences for the political party system by giving rise to new parties, re-orientating ethnic and political alliances, and contributing to turnover in elections. However, the dissertation reveals that both the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy and the Patriotic Front governments in Zambia reneged on the reforms which they promised while in opposition and opted to maintain the constitutional clauses, repressive legislation and patronage system which they inherited.
An extensive analysis of the 35 by-elections which occurred after the 2011 turnover ascertains that there was pervasive co-option of opposition members into the Patriotic Front, leading back to the dominant path. Therefore, the dissertation concludes that one-party dominance in Zambia is path dependent. Consequently, it is an alternation fallacy to expect the ousting of a dominant party to stimulate democratisation. Democracy advocates will need to confront the challenge of providing incentives that will persuade incumbents to undertake reforms which diminish executive dominance and strengthen the independence of oversight institutions.





van Houten, Pieter


Zambia, Alternation, Turnover, two-turnover test, Factionalism, Dominant parties, One-party dominance, Succession, Co-option, Neopatrimonialism, Patronage, By-elections, Floor-crossing


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge