Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tilyenji’s timely warning

Tilyenji’s timely warning
By The Post
Sat 20 Nov. 2010, 04:00 CAT

To have peaceful, free and fair elections, certain conditions have to prevail in our country and in our hearts. There ought to be a conducive atmosphere. The major players have to agree on the conditions under which next year’s elections will be held.

The contestants have to conduct themselves in a manner that does not put others at an unfair disadvantage. There ought to be agreement on all the key issues concerning the organisation of the elections.

And constructive dialogue should be encouraged at all times on key electoral issues such as the Constitution, the electoral Act and voter registration.

In light of the legitimate concerns raised by Tilyenji Kaunda, president of opposition UNIP, we make a special appeal to the government and to the ruling MMD to realise that they have a serious responsibility.

As facilitators of next year’s elections, they should ensure that the concerns of all key players are adequately addressed.

We also make an appeal to all the opposition political parties about the need for them to be open and constructive in participating in the electoral process and in addressing the issues and concerns raised by Tilyenji, among others.

It cannot be denied that the Electoral Commission of Zambia is not independent from political interference to conduct free and fair elections next year.

And we agree with Tilyenji that it would be difficult for Zambia to hold free and fair elections which would be acceptable to all under the current electoral commission if nothing is done to strengthen its capacity and make it independent from the political influence of those in government and in the ruling MMD.

Truly, the entire Electoral Commission of Zambia needs to be overhauled with a view to increasing its capacity and strengthening its independence. We are very lucky as a nation that our people do not have a culture of violence. But we shouldn’t push our luck too far.

We were lucky to come out of the 2001 elections which were clearly manipulated to give Frederick Chiluba’s handpicked candidate, Levy Mwanawasa, a questionable and very narrow victory over Anderson Mazoka of opposition UPND.

And as Tilyenji has correctly pointed out, this was repeated in 2006 and 2008 over election results which were justifiably difficult for Michael Sata and his Patriotic Front to accept. Again, the Zambian people protested but remained peaceful.

Next year, the MMD will have been in power for 20 years – a very long time indeed in a multi-party democracy.

Clearly, the forthcoming electoral process will provide all Zambians with a unique opportunity to show their political maturity and their sincere aspiration for peace and harmony anchored in justice.

We believe it is in this spirit that Tilyenji is calling for free and fair elections conducted by a strengthened and independent electoral commission that has been overhauled for this purpose.

And in saying that the Electoral Commission of Zambia is not independent, we are not in any way attacking the integrity of the men and women who manage the affairs of this commission.

We have a lot of respect, and we don’t believe we are the only ones, for judge Florence Mumba, the chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia.

She is a lady with an independent mind, a fair-minded person who, if given the right institutional framework, can deliver for us free and fair elections that we deserve.

But such an independent institutional framework, with the necessary capacity, does not exist in our country.

Judge Mumba’s control of the elections is very limited. And it’s not possible to have an electoral commission whose officers are all appointed by one contestant – the political party in government.

As things stand today, all the commissioners of the electoral commission are single-handedly appointed by the President.

What stops him from appointing his relatives, friends, tribesmen and so on and so forth that are more open to swing things his way?

We also know that a huge part of our electoral process is managed by the Ministry of Local Government.

Again, a large number of officers in this ministry are appointees of the President.

And these know very well that their jobs depend on the continuation in office of those who appointed them.

Therefore, they would do everything possible, everything within their power, to swing things their way and ensure that as far as possible, they win.

We also know that the intelligence, the police and other security agencies play some vital role in our electoral process.

And from previous election petitions, we know what role the intelligence plays or can play to manipulate the outcome of elections in favour of those who are currently commanding them.

It is therefore very important that we urgently reconstitute our electoral commission so that it fairly represents all the key political players, the main known political bodies and impartial observers.

It cannot be left to the ruling party to choose all the match officials.

This, as Tilyenji has correctly warned, is a recipe for trouble, for anarchy, for post-electoral violence. Instead of increasing the free-and-fairness of our elections, the process is becoming less and less fair and free.

Soon it will be very difficult to make citizens confident that the results of elections are accurate and that the government does, in indeed, rest upon their consent.

And as we have said before, we are not in any way overlooking the fact that the political party in power may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, but the rules and conduct of the election contest must be fair.

Equal opportunities should be given to all political parties and persons taking part in the elections. Simply permitting opposition candidates to the ballots is not enough.

A free and fair environment should exist for all to meaningfully participate in the elections with a fair chance of winning if they are able to effectively motivate their supporters to convert their opinions into votes.

Free, fair and constrictive elections would translate into a reality when all of us as citizens of this country, as leaders of our people, take our responsibility seriously.

Let everyone involved have in their hearts the desire that all will benefit, and not just the party which wins.

Let’s hold elections in such a free and fair way that when all is done, let it be said, not that this particular political party or candidate won, rather that Zambia won the elections.

It is necessary to remind all our politicians, especially those in government and in the ruling party, that elections are for the good of the people and the country and not for the political survival of any individual or political party.

If the spirit of the primacy of the common good were to animate all our politicians, we would have no difficulties overhauling the electoral commission, the electoral Act and the Constitution to ensure peaceful, free and fair elections.

In the present atmosphere of fierce political competition, we remind our politicians of the noble goals of political activity and indeed of the elections.

Politics and elections aim at the promotion of the common good and the service of all the people.

Let’s tailor all our political and electoral institutions to this purpose.

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