I have been a passionate believer in dialogue all my life. The absence of political dialogue in any country , which claims to practice democracy, is a prescription for political anarchy and instability . The need for dialogue among our political leaders is not only imperative, but absolutely urgent.
General elections are due to be held in August, 2021 in accordance with our Constitution. We decided some years ago, to save on expenses by holding Presidential, Parliamentary and Local government elections. There are still many outstanding issues which must be resolved, in order to create the atmosphere and internal conditions for the holding of free, fair, democratic and transparent elections which meet international standards. Zambia subscribes to the various declarations and decisions of the United Nations, the African Union and SADC. These organisations have come up with various protocols, which describe how election campaigns and the entire electoral process should be conducted.
There are genuine concerns about the Bill 10, which requires more consultation among the stakeholders and not just imposed through the tyranny of the majority in Parliament. Consensus building is extremely important in a nascent democracy. National Constitutions are not supposed to be treated as partisan documents. Here are some of the issues which political parties must discuss and hopefully agree on;
1. Voter registration and issuance of National Registration Cards.
2. Presidential, Parliamentary and Local government nomination fees, which are prohibitive as announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
3. The Campaign period and the need to create a level playing field for all those campaigning and contesting elections.
4. How the leadwrship at ECZ is selected and appointed must be in such a manner that they view their role as being to defend democracy and transparency, and not to protect the interests of the ruling Party. They must also see themselves as being accountable to the wishes and aspirations of the people, and not of any government.
5. Equal and fair access to the state media, which is owned by the people of Zambia and not the personal property of whatever political party is in power at any given time. This point is emphasised in the UN, AU and SADC declarations. I admire public broadcasters like the South African Broadcasting Corporation, for their unbiased coverage of all political parties, almost on an equal basis. That is what is required here too.
6. Selective application of the Public Order Act, which nearly always advantages the political party in power. All those political parties taking part in elections must have the right to campaign freely and without hindrance.
7. The Electoral Act, should be amended to include the banning of political hooligans from other districts and Provinces, for purposes of staging attacks on political opponents.
8. The counting of votes and their verification, must be observed by representatives of political parties taking part at each and every point, right up to the announcement or declaration of results. In Nigeria, where i was a co- Chief Election Observer of the National Democratic Institute (NDI ), this is included in the Electoral Act. The net result is that, there are few election petitions, because the whole process is transparent from beginning right up to the end. Electoral transparency is essential for purposes restoring
integrity and much needed trust in the Electoral process.
9. All political parties taking part in elections, must be made to sign an identical declaration committing themselves to non-violence , peaceful campaigns and avoid using inflammatory language against each other during campaigns.
*10. The issue of the Constitutional Court requires an inquisition. It was ill advised to equate the Constitutional Court with the Supreme Court, whose decisions are not appeal able. In many countries around the world, the Supreme Court also sits as a Constitution Court. Where this is not so, the Constitutional Court is equal in terms of jurisdiction to the high Court and its decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court. I know of no other country that has two Appex Courts – as an Appex Court is the jurisdiction of last legal resort, and so there cannot be two of them. This is tantamount to creating a constitutional disfunctionality that can already be seen and anticipated.*
11. It defies logic for the academic qualifications of Local government councillor to be equated to those of a Presidential candidate.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but captures some of the issues our political leaders need to discuss behind closed doors. It was done during the reign of the MMD and can still be done now. It is sickening to see or hear political leaders talking at each other and not to each other. This is an abomination and does not fit into the new normal of 21st century politics. Dialogue is synonymous with modern politics and is critically important for Zambia’s future , because it increases the chances of peace and reduces tension in our country. Dialogue may not solve our problems, but past experience tells that it has the potential to produce solutions to difficult and seemingly insurmountable problems . political sanity in our country is indispensable.
Young politicians of today, must be made to understand and accept that they are not enemies, but mere opponents involved in a contest for power. The Public offices they occupy are intended for men and women who are passionate about service to the citizens of country and not to themselves, their families and friends.
For God’s sake, let us have political sanity in our country. We need commitment to transform our country through hard work and focused foresight, into a better and more prosperous country for all our people. There must be an even stronger commitment to eliminate the scourge of corruption, which has become a most unwelcome and ugly vice in our country. It does not require a rocket scientist to tell us that working together as responsible citizens, we can achieve much more. No individual Zambian is bigger or more important than Zambia. Zambia is for all Zambians regardless of where they come from.
Just next door to us, Malawi has just gone through an expensive, painful and divisive repeat election which could have so easily been avoided, had it not been for the very obviously partial and unprofessional conduct of its own Electoral Commission. Are we incapable of learning important lessons from our very next door, which occured only yesterday?
Dr Vernon Mwaanga
Lusaka , 7th July, 2020.