Friday, September 16, 2011

Let's do the right thing and avoid post-electoral conflict

Let's do the right thing and avoid post-electoral conflict
By The Post
Fri 16 Sep. 2011, 14:00 CAT

IF next Tuesday's elections will be free, fair, transparent and honest, it will be difficult for losers not to accept the judgment of the voters. But if the great majority of the voters feel next Tuesday's elections have not been conducted in a manner that can be said to be free, fair, transparent and honest, it will not be easy for the losers to accept the result.

It is therefore very important that anything that may make the result of next Tuesday's elections unacceptable to the losers needs to be cleared. It is not enough for us to persuade people to accept an election result of a process they see as being unfair and fraudulent.

If election results are to be easily accepted by the losers, the primary requisite is to eradicate the possible causes of such rejection by making the whole process visibly free, fair, transparent and honest. And these should not remain just mere words to be bandied around; they have to be visible in concrete actions.

What is happening now is that the MMD and its supporters or sympathisers are trying to blackmail people into accepting an election result without regard to whether or not it was free of fraud.

Listening to Patriotic Front supporters, it seems they are very convinced that nothing other than electoral fraud will stop Michael Sata from winning this election. And there are pledges being made not to accept any result they believe to be a product of fraud. They seem to sincerely believe that without fraud, Michael is winning.

How does one convince them to accept a different result from that which they believe should be the result? For sure, it is not through blackmail or coercion. This can only be done through the organisation and conduct of elections whose fairness, freeness, transparency and honesty cannot be questioned by any reasonable person.

This can only be done by conducting elections in a manner that makes the rejection of the result unreasonable or stupid on anyone's part. Forcing people to accept the result when everything in the organisation and conduct of the election points to unfairness, malpractices or fraud will not do.

It is therefore important that those who want the losers to accept the election result should be in the forefront of demanding an atmosphere that will make it impossible or unreasonable for anyone to reject the result.

As things stand today, the suspicion of electoral malpractice and fraud is very high. And this is not without a basis. It is a suspicion based on past experience. We shouldn't forget that the Electoral Commission of Zambia failed to account for 600,000 ballot papers that were brought in late. No one to date has explained where those ballot papers went.

We also have a Supreme Court judgment by the current Chief Justice, when he was an ordinary judge of the Supreme Court, rejecting the re-election of Frederick Chiluba in 1996 due to electoral malpractices. This of course was a dissenting judgment by justice Ernest Sakala. But it points to the reality, to the fact that electoral malpractices are possible in our system.

The 2001 elections also brought out great suspicions in terms of electoral malpractices. Many people, including ourselves, sincerely believe that Levy Mwanawasa did not win that election - it was rigged for him by Chiluba and his people in parts of Northern Province.

Equally, the result of 2008 election that made Rupiah Banda president also raised serious suspicions which no one, including the Electoral Commission of Zambia, has not cleared. And next Tuesday's elections will be held under great suspicion arising from the corruption of the company that was awarded the contract to print ballot papers. And this is the company that printed previous controversial elections' ballot papers.

If they can bribe some Electoral Commission of Zambia officials to get contracts, what can stop them from printing additional ballot papers for those in power in order for them to retain their contracts? Worse more in this election, this company knows very well that if Rupiah and the MMD lose this election, that will be the end of their contracts in Zambia and their agents - local and otherwise - may face corruption and bribery charges and may go to jail.

So it is in their own interest, and in their own self-preservation, to do everything possible and ensure Rupiah and MMD's victory. There is growing talk of extra ballot papers having been brought into the country illegally for the purpose of rigging next Tuesday's elections.

People are talking about it openly. No practical measures are being undertaken to increase transparency in the organisation and conduct of our elections to remove these growing or ever-increasing suspicions of rigging. People are talking of over 200 cadres who have been trained to rig elections and infused in our electoral process and our state intelligence and security agencies. There is talk of close to a million ballot papers being pre-marked and to be introduced into our electoral system to enable some candidates win.

People are talking about all these things but the response to this is less intelligent; it is not inspiring. All we hear and read are appeals to accept the election result whichever way it goes. Yes, we should all work towards coming out with an election result that is not only accepted by the winners but also by the losers. But words alone will not produce that outcome.

Practical deeds are required to render the system credible and the result from it acceptable to all the competitors and their supporters.

What will make the result acceptable to all is increasing the confidence of our people in the fairness, transparency, honesty, integrity and accuracy of our electoral system.

This can be achieved by clearing all areas, by doing away with all practices that generate or fuel suspicions of rigging or electoral malpractices. All that is needed to make people accept the election result is simply to increase their confidence in the accuracy of the results and make them feel that the result truly reflects their wishes and that the government does, indeed, rest upon their consent.

Instead of public confidence in our electoral system increasing, it has been diminishing over the years. We all know that degeneration has a limit. At some point, a crisis is bound to emerge, people are bound to rebel against what they find unacceptable. Fraudulent elections are not acceptable to the great majority of our people. And for a political party or candidate to engage in electoral malpractices, in fraud or in rigging of elections, it means that they are not popular, they are not wanted by the electorate. A popular candidate doesn't need rigging to win.

It is an unpopular candidate who needs rigging to win. And it is not difficult to guess what happens or what can happen if an unpopular candidate - a candidate who wasn't supposed to win - wins! Rejection sets in. And usually rejection is accompanied by protests. And protest can sometimes be violent, uncontrollable and anarchic.

All this can be avoided by simply doing the right thing; by simply organising and conducting our elections in an honest, transparent, free and fair manner. These are not difficult things to achieve because no one was born dishonest, or with injustice and unfairness.

We consciously or unconsciously acquire these negative things out of greedy and vanity. Let's do the right thing and avoid post-electoral conflict.

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