By The Post
Tue 15 Mar. 2011, 04:00 CAT
Democracies thrive on openness and accountability, with one very important exception: the act of voting itself. To cast a free ballot and minimise the opportunity for intimidation, voters in a democracy must be permitted to cast their ballot in secret.
At the same time, the protection of the ballot box and the tallying of vote totals must be conducted as openly as possible so that citizens are confident that the results are accurate and that the government does, indeed, rest upon their consent.
Therefore, any initiative that helps to increase public confidence in the accuracy of the election result must be encouraged.
If people have confidence in the system of verifying the election results, it will become useless for anyone to reject the results.
And if the election results are accepted by both the winners and the losers, disputes and conflicts will be eliminated from our election.
This is important because in a democracy, the authority of the government derives solely from the consent of the governed.
And the principal mechanism for translating that consent into governmental authority is the holding of free, transparent, fair and credible elections.
Against this background, it should be clear to all players in our political system that any manoeuvres that tend to reduce the confidence of our people in the electoral process are inimical and should not be countenanced by anyone.
But this is exactly what Rupiah Banda and his minions are about.
We cannot understand why a common sense system that has worked in all the previous elections should be abandoned simply because they are nervous about their chances of winning.
We say this because in every election that has been held in this country, people monitor the results and do their own additions to determine who is leading.
We recall that in 2006, this system of parallel vote tabulation averted what could have been a disastrous situation for the nation.
The Patriotic Front had routed the MMD in most of the urban centres to such a degree that their members believed that they had won the presidency.
But we as a newspaper kept our own tally of the results which told us that although the Patriotic Front had done very well, the MMD was headed for victory because of their generally better average results countrywide.
Before people got too carried away with a victory that never was, we told the nation that in our view Levy Mwanawasa was headed for victory, and we gave our reasons.
The supporters of the Patriotic Front were very unhappy with us, but at least it prepared them for what was coming; it was not a sudden death for them.
In that way, our own rudimentary parallel tallying of results helped to increase the credibility of the results that were finally declared.
If those results were only coming from one source, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, it would have been very difficult for the Patriotic Front and its supporters to accept them.
In the end, the picture was very clear and the results were generally accepted as reflective of what transpired at the polls.
Although Levy went into that election as a very unpopular president in the urban centres, that election victory changed the dynamics for him.
By the time Levy was passing away, he was more popular than he had ever been in his entire political life.
He had even made peace with the Patriotic Front and its leader Michael Sata – a working relationship had been created between them.
It is strange to hear people suggesting that adding up declared results by anyone other than the Electoral Commission is a danger to the credibility of the results.
How this can be is difficult for us to understand.
We say this because results are declared publicly so that anyone who is interested can follow what is happening and determine for themselves who has won and who has lost.
We are not the only country where people observe the results as they are declared and determine who has won.
Many of our people would have followed the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. In that election, the various news networks that operate in the United States were tabulating the results as they were coming out.
In fact, they were even carrying out what they called exit polls to determine who would ultimately emerge winner in a given area.
They would then give the general impression that they deduced from the information that they collected.
That did not in any way reduce the credibility of that election. If anything, the media played a key role in keeping the people informed about the state of play in that historic election.
The question that we continue to ask ourselves therefore is: why are Rupiah and his friends so scared of this level of transparency in the tabulation of results?
If, as they would like us to believe, there is no fraudulent manipulation in our elections in this country, why should information be kept away from the public?
What Rupiah and his minions are doing is to tell our people in very clear terms that it is advantageous to the MMD for results to be held back.
And what this means is that it is possible for the MMD to manipulate the results to their own advantage.
It is this message that is being sent to our people that poses a threat to our peace and stability, not the transparency that Rupiah is fighting against.
It is a well-known fact that those who want to cheat, to deceive, to manipulate have always been against transparency in favour of secrecy.
Moreover, these elections are not conducted for the benefit of Rupiah and his friends.
These are elections held to determine the will of our people on who should lead them.
What this means is that their opinion should not be compromised in any way.
What they say by the ballot that they cast should be accepted as such.
But clearly, Rupiah thinks that these elections are his to run as he pleases. He thinks that he should have the last say on any issue that is contentious.
But this is not what democracy is about. If we are going 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 this year’s elections are going to be held.
The contestants have to conduct themselves in a manner that does not put others at an unfair disadvantage.
There ought to be transparency in the organisation of the elections. And this puts special responsibility on Rupiah, his government and his party as facilitators of the elections.
Rupiah should ensure that the concerns of all key players are adequately addressed. And this is one such issue that needs to be positively addressed.
Rupiah has to show how parallel vote tabulation is going to advantage the opposition and disadvantage him.
We see nothing in parallel vote tabulation that will put any contestant in these elections at a disadvantage.
If anything, the absence of this method of monitoring the elections will disadvantage our people.
It will entrench the belief that successive governments since Frederick Chiluba’s government rig elections. This cannot be a good thing for our democracy.
If Rupiah does not intend to rig the elections, he has no reason to fear parallel vote tabulation.
Rupiah’s fears only go to entrench our people’s belief that his government intends to rig the next elections.