Saturday, October 18, 2008

'Fumes and smoke appear before the flames do'

'Fumes and smoke appear before the flames do'
By Editor
Saturday October 18, 2008 [04:00]

The atmosphere is tensing up and if things continue this way, Zambians are unlikely to have peaceful elections this month-end. There is so much suspicion in the air about the possibility of rigging. Public trust in the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the government seems to be at its lowest.

There is great fear among opposition leaders and their supporters that this election may be rigged. It is said that fumes and smoke appear before the flames do; insults come before violence (Sirach 22:24).

The issues being raised by Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) may have a lot to do with these suspicions. At the beginning of these campaigns, Rupiah Banda’s agents made it very clear that for them, this election was a matter of life and death. And we all know what happens in a contest that is a matter of life and death – rules are ignored, laws are broken, principles are violated.

And as TIZ has correctly observed, Rupiah and his sponsors have been breaking electoral rules without the Electoral Commission of Zambia taking them to task. At the beginning of his campaign, Rupiah was distributing sugar and mealie-meal bought with government money to the electorate.

When issues were raised, the Electoral Commission, instead of coming out strong on it, tried to mitigate for him. Rupiah made discriminatory statements in Chipata inciting the people of Eastern Province to chase other candidates whose origins are in other parts of our country and stop them from campaigning in this important province of our nation.

Again, issues were raised about this but the Electoral Commission turned a blind eye. There was the electoral bribery issue of James Lukuku. The Electoral Commission did nothing about it. Government motor vehicles are being abused by Rupiah to ferry supporters and other agents. And these include police vehicles and even ambulances. The Electoral Commission know about these abuses but have done nothing.

It seems Rupiah is a highly privileged presidential candidate who is above the law. The rule of law doesn’t seem to apply where Rupiah is concerned. Where Rupiah is concerned, it seems the right to equality before the law, or equal protection of the law as it is often phrased, does not apply. But we know that this principle is fundamental to any just and democratic society. It seems in Zambia today, we have electoral rules that apply only to Rupiah’s opponents while none apply to him.

Rupiah doesn’t seem restricted in any way by electoral rules. He can do what he wants without being questioned by anybody. The Electoral Commission seems helpless when it comes to Rupiah and his misdeeds or violations of the electoral code. But the rule of law requires that whether politically powerful or weak, we should all be equal before the law, we should all be entitled to equal protection before the law.

We appreciate that no one can guarantee that life will treat everyone equally. But under no circumstances should the Electoral Commission impose additional inequalities; it should deal with all the candidates and their supporters evenly and equally. But this is not the case today. Rupiah and his supporters appear to be above the law.
We are reminded that “every lawless act leaves an incurable wound, like one left by a double-edged sword” (Sirach 21:3).

Simply permitting the opposition presidential candidates access to the ballot is not enough. The rules and conduct of the election contest must be fair.

If what Rupiah has been doing was done by an opposition candidate, we have no doubt the Electoral Commission would have come out strong on them. But when it comes to Rupiah, their reaction is usually in the form of a generalised condemnation – trying to blame even the opposition candidates when they have not done anything wrong.

This type of behaviour is dangerous; it creates serious suspicions and dissention. It is not right to favour the guilty and keep the innocent from receiving justice (Proverbs 18:5). Rupiah is getting away with a lot of things, a lot of wrongs. And it is difficult to understand why the interests of an individual – Rupiah – should take precedence over the interests of the rest of the citizens of this country.

TIZ is right in its observation to the effect that the Electoral Commission’s inertia when it comes to Rupiah’s violations raises the question: “Why do we have an Electoral Code of Conduct if we cannot enforce it?”

And we agree with TIZ’s conclusion that the impunity Rupiah’s campaign team continues to show in the abuse of government resources is partly aided by the Electoral Commission’s inability to adequately carry out its duties.

It will be very difficult under these circumstances for the opposition candidates and their supporters to accept unfavourable results of the October 30 election because the Electoral Commission has failed to level the play field and to organise the electoral process in a manner that inspires confidence and dispels suspicions. The way the Electoral Commission has treated things so far leads to only one reaction: suspicion of rigging and other malpractices.

The way the Electoral Commission reacted or tried to explain the ballot papers that were nearly taken to Kalabo without their ‘knowledge and authority’ is frightening. It leaves any sensible and fair-minded person worried about their efficiency, effectiveness and ability to conduct elections in an orderly manner. If someone can drive in their stores, pick up ballot papers and drive away without their knowledge, how on earth can they expect anyone to have confidence in their ability to organise free and fair elections?

If anarchy follows this election, the first blame should go to the Electoral Commission. And the second one, should lie with Rupiah.

And probably it’s time the performance of the Electoral Commission management is reviewed. It is not enough to be changing chairpersons without paying attention to those who daily direct the operations of the Electoral Commission.

Poorly conducted elections are very dangerous. They are a recipe for anarchy.

We need to conduct our elections as openly as possible so that our people at the end of the elections have confidence in the results, in their accuracy and are left with no doubt that whoever has won has the majority support, was voted for by most of the voters.

We do appreciate the fact that democracy is in many ways nothing more than a set of rules for managing conflict. We say managing conflict because things do not sort themselves out, solutions have to be found to problems and conflicts have to be resolved by consensus and other acceptable means.

Conflicts or disagreements over how the elections must be conducted need to be managed within certain limits and result in compromises, consensus or other agreements that all sides accept as legitimate. An overemphasis on one side of the equation, an overprotection of those in government, can threaten the entire undertaking. If our candidates and their supporters perceive democracy as nothing more than a forum in which they can press their interests, do or die as Mbita Chitala said, we are in trouble, anarchy may soon engulf our country.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that this democracy we are pursuing is not a machine that runs by itself once the proper principles and procedures are inserted. A democratic society needs the commitment of citizens who accept the inevitability of conflicts as well as the necessity for tolerance, compromise and consensus.

It is said that democracy is not a set of revealed, unchanging truths, but the mechanism by which, through the clash and compromise of ideas, individuals and institutions, the people can, however imperfectly, reach for truth.

As we have stated before, the ability to conduct free, fair and honest elections is at the core of what it means to call a society democratic.
Casting a vote for a presidential candidate of our choice on October 30, in itself, guarantees us nothing. It offers instead the opportunity to succeed as well as the risk of failure.

Going to the polls is then both a promise and a challenge. It is a promise that if we work together in the spirit of love and tolerance, we can elect representatives who will help us govern our country’s affairs in a manner that will serve our aspirations for personal freedom, economic opportunity and social justice. It is a challenge because the success of such elections, of this democratic enterprise we have embarked upon rests upon our shoulders as citizens of this country and on no one else. In the end, we get a government we deserve.

For these reasons, we urge the Electoral Commission and Rupiah to mull over things and consider the feelings, the concerns of other stakeholders, of fellow citizens over the manner in which they are conducting this presidential election. We know Rupiah wants to win, and justifiably so, but it shouldn’t be at any cost – at the cost of igniting the sparks of anarchy in this country.

As for the Electoral Commission, there has to be an admission that all is not as it should be in the manner they are conducting this election. There are clear manifestations of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, lack of orderliness and sometimes dishonesty in the way they are managing things. This needs to be corrected and corrected very quickly because time, although of essence, is not on their side. Public mistrust in them – as a result of their inefficiency, ineffectiveness, disorderliness and sometimes dishonesty – is starting to run very high.

All efforts should be made to restore public confidence in their work. As things stand today, it will be very difficult for the opposition to accept defeat on October 30. This is not a conducive atmosphere for holding such important and highly competitive elections. We say this because these elections are not symbolic – they are competitive and the president of this country is supposed to be decided by the voters of Zambia on October 30.

And these elections are not about the political survival of Rupiah and his sponsors, they should be for the good of the people and our country. If the spirit of this primacy of the common good were to animate Rupiah and his sponsors and those in charge of the affairs of the Electoral Commission, we would not witness elections that leave the public dismayed and disheartened.

We should therefore ensure that this coming presidential election is held or conducted in national interest for the good of all our people and not necessarily for the good of the candidates or one of them – Rupiah.
Anarchy can be avoided by doing everything in the most transparent and accountable manner. There should be nothing secret about this election.

The only exception should be the casting of the vote itself – everything else should be transparent for all to see or verify. This is the only way we will ensure a free and fair election that will be accepted and respected by all our people – winners and losers alike.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home