What Multi-Party Democracy

By Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika

Initiator and Founder National Secretary of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy

The resolutions of this July 1991 National Conference on the Multi-party Option constitute a vision of democracy and development, as an integral part of the historical and global Pan-African aspiration for restoration of human dignity, political sovereignty, economic self-reliance to African peoples, in freedom, justice and equality. This was in recognition and upholding the social and political pluralism that is inherent in all societies, including the restoration of the multi-party constitution that was promised with independence but abrogated with the imposition of a One Party State after 1972.

This was depicted in The Resolutions and Framework for Action agreed on 21st July 1990 at the Garden House Conference, in Lusaka, Zambia. This dream still lives on, although some people in power may have betrayed it. It may have been abandoned by some, but it can never be forever lost and forgotten. But, when there are calls to “Restore the Dream,” it is appreciated that history cannot, and need not, be made to recur as in a replica of its past in the future. While the general features, such as the objectives and strategies of Garden House resolutions, together with the experience that has followed, may usefully be revisited, the way forward calls for taking account of changes in general knowledge base, social awareness, human relations and political-economic environment.

The principles of the 1990 Garden House Hotel dream remain valid, and, in fact, need to be re-enforced. The promises of the dream remain, but require reviewing and re-formulating, for purpose reinforcing and tailoring them the needs and interests of people as revealed in practical experience since 1990. The visionaries and formulators of the dream, may be among those that have betrayed the dream in action and effect, and have may have made themselves unfit for the mission of fulfilling it. This agenda needs to be reviewed and addressed directly, specifically and frankly, rather than superficially and diplomatically.

In line with the 1990 resolutions the first resolution area, it was asserted that: people participation is an inalienable right in governance, economy and society, not just in voting every now and then. After over twenty years, the level, class and gender of people participation in political and economic affairs has not changed – except, perhaps, for the worst, in terms of the reduced number of people earning their living in security and dignity. There has not even been much success in increasing the numbers of citizens, particularly women folk, participating meaningfully, both as the electors and the elected. To make matters worse, the election process has continued to be left under the charge of an unrepresentative and popularly unaccountable Electoral Commission, whose integrity depends on unreliable personal whims rather than institutionalized guarantees and established common culture.

The second resolution recognised that there can be no development without democracy, and no democracy without development. This idea was recognised in the Report of the 1990 Constitutional Commission, which stated that: “a prosperous economy … is a necessary facility to a good constitution.” After ten years of the first MMD government, there has been a complete failure to advance and secure human development and the national economy to support a “good constitution” – or a bribery-free electoral processes and practices. This has been re-enforced by the failure to change the Zambian Constitution in ways that open up the development process and national economic management regime to popular relevancy, control and accountability. As a result there has been free-fall degeneration in the process of losing national sovereignty and neglecting safeguards for social welfare, through increased dependency on so-called “donors,” with citizens, Parliament and other institutions remaining powerless or uninvolved over the mounting economic crisis that undermines democracy.

The third resolutions demanded OPEN, FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS. It bemoaned that “the leadership of the current ruling party are determined to maintain the present system of political monopoly, while simultaneously silencing free democrats, appeasing foreign financiers, and ensuring a continued absence of effective institutionalized opposition, using the state of emergency, the lack of separation of the ruling party’s operations and personnel from the Civil Service, security forces and parastatal enterprises.”

Under the first MMD regime the STATE OF EMERGENCY was twice been unjustifiably declared and unjustly applied against opposition party members, and, more especially in the run up to the 1996 elections. The Register of Voters, and the operations of the NIKUV COMPUTERS contracted to establish it, have been found wanting in the court of law. But the results of the 1996 elections conducted under it were not nullified, on the ruling that Government had already spent too much money on it.

The focus was on constitutional provision for RESTRICTIONS ON PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. This was tailored to prevent former President Kenneth Kaunda from standing, on account of his parents’ place of birth, while not requiring incumbent President Frederick Chiluba to positively prove the place of birth and identity of his parents. Criminalization of political dissent, including by doctoring and discriminatory application of laws, has featured during the decade of the first MMD Administration, as has been the abuse of public service and resources for personal and partisan electioneering ends.

The fourth resolution declared that we were RESOLVED TO DEMOCRATISE, by pledging to “work together with courage, commitment and effort, to ensure that the process of democratisation is established with minimum delay and maximum effectiveness.”

During the whole of the reign of the Chiluba-MMD the process of democratisation had not proceeded beyond the minimum attained at the end of the government of the United National Independence Party (UNIP). This minimum was achieved when the Constitutional Clause restricting the freedom of forming political parties and participating in local council, parliamentary and presidential elections were removed. The Constitutional amendment of 1996, as intended, achieved only to restrict the freedom and constrain the rights of select individuals over the provision for the qualification of candidates for being candidates in elections for the presidency of Zambia.

The fifth REJECTED THE ONE PARTY MONOPOLY OVER GOVERNMENT, “which is characterised by minimal, ineffective, and undermined institutional channels of accountability, as well as uncontrolled latitudes for economic mismanagement, sustained by inadequate levels of democracy.”

One lesson of the last, actually the lost, decade, under the first-MMD regime, is that there can be a one party monopoly over government and the electoral process, even under a multi-party constitution. This is possible, as long as government continued to be under a single ruling party, power continued to be centralised in the Capital and the presidency continues to an all-powerful quarter master personalised function. Under these circumstances, the constitutional regime and political culture continues to undermine citizens’ freedom to vote-in and vote-out governments, Presidents and parliamentarians.

The sixth REJECTED THE TACTICS OF ALARMIST FREEDOM-PHOBIA.In this regard we condemned “fixations on unfounded fears of so-called ‘tribalism,’ unsustainable commitment to false ideologies, as well as false alarms over images of past inter-party violence, as excuses for restricting the freedom of political association and the right of electoral participation.”

The first MMD government has continued to resort to the use of the label of tribalism against political parties led by persons originating from outside the north-eastern parts of Zambia. It has further sought to hide the truth and suppress freedom of expression by tending to label any sharp and frank criticism as insults. It decreed the Christian Religion upon the people, in a politically motivated affront against the democratic principle of freedom of consciousness, and in a way that opens doors to religious bigotry and racial animosity in politics. It falsely, and knowingly so, imprisoned innocent opposition leaders, on false charges of treason around election time. This was in relation to a coup attempt and violent acts, which the President and his Police Force knew the victims to have had nothing to do with, but, never the less, subjected some of them to torture – which government has not cared about and not denied.

The seventh appealed for PRESSURE AGAINST THE STATE, so long as it maintained an unjustified state of emergency, denial of freedom of association, political trials and political prisoners, over which it refused to establish “a free, serious and irreversible consensus on a new democratic constitution.”

Ten years later, some citizens were still calling on the international community to put pressure against the Zambian government, because it has failed, if not refused, to establish a free, serious and irreversible consensus on a new democratic constitution. We may understand this resort to the support of the so-called donors, but we believe that Africans must sort out their governments by themselves. We must not continue to believe that the Western dominated international community shares our entire agenda for freedom, justice and equality in all matters of human relations, including the global economic fields. In this regard, African Parliaments may have, in many cases, been found wanting in the necessary task to hold their governments effectively accountable, not through so-called donors, but through own institutions and civic society.

The eighth specifically laid down the CONDITIONS FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS. These included the lifting of the state of emergency, up dating of the register of voters and de-linking of public service from partisan politics. This called for the ending of the practice of abusing public authority and resources for personal and partisan purposes. It called for establishment of the reign of press freedom freeing of political prisoners and ending of political trials. It also called for the invitation of local and foreign election observers.

Under the ten-year rule of the first MMD Government, the registration of voters had not been continuous or otherwise effective. The number of registered voters, and voting voters, has continued to constitute a minority among the ellegible voters. The politicization of the public service, including the police force and public media, continued, as did the abuse of public resources and offices by the ruling party. In this way the integrity of the electoral process has been undermined. The whole regime of re-introduced multi-partism has remained questionable, and more likely to cause conflict than to management it.

In this regard, election observers have not been an effective monitoring and controlling factor for ensuring free and fair elections, or for influencing improvements in the conduct of future elections. Un-addressed or unsatisfied questions remain over appointment, powers, funding and representative-ness of members of the Electoral Commission. One area of particular dissatisfaction is over the failure to institute continuous registration of voters and minimisation of identification documents required of voters. This has not been helped by the lack of adequate and appropriate dialogue between the ruling party-cum-government and opposition parties and interested civic organisations. Therefore, it is an answer to long-standing needs that there are current initiatives and efforts towards constitutional and electoral reforms, as well as re-starting inter-party dialogue.

The ninth resolved to organise under an action committee, the National Interim Committee, to spear head the campaign for the re-introduction of multi-party democracy and multi-party elections. After a decade of deceit and betrayal, it has been appropriate to call for an alliance of progressive and democratic forces to organise for putting the freedom train back on rail for democracy and development.

The tenth affirmed CONFIDENCE IN THE PEOPLE, who “like people everywhere and throughout history, cannot, and shall not, fail to rise and defeat all obstacles to their freedom, particularly now that there is a chance for peaceful change, through the ballot box.” And, now, despite, the disappointments of the last ten years, we, who founded MMD for its just and justified social cause, still hold confidence in the people, for putting the freedom train back on rail for democracy and development. Therefore, the fate and future of the original agenda democracy and development need to be reviewed, with the aim of trying to restore, but not to replicate, the dream of freedom, justice and equality. In this regard, the agenda for establishing an open, free and fair electoral process, as part of the over all agenda for democracy and development, is as critical and necessary, now, as it was in year 1991. It is in this regard that the struggle must continue, starting with the urgent need to revisit and reconstruct the Constitution of Zambia. We have to address the “what, why and how” of the way forward in this struggle for democracy and development.

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