Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Good faith is needed in our politics

By Editor
Wed 05 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

Dr Guy Scott, Vice-President of the Republic of Zambia, says there will be no need for by-elections if the MMD and the UPND offer to work with the Patriotic Front in good faith.

If the opposition and the ruling Patriotic Front are able to work together in good faith, it won't matter much where one belongs. And if it doesn't matter much which political party one belongs to, the issue of crossing will seldom arise.

What is causing these so-called defections from the opposition to the ruling party is the inability to accept principles of a loyal opposition. Being in the opposition does not necessarily mean not cooperating or working with the government on anything.

The opposition is part of government. And if the opposition is part of government, this means that it has an important role to play in the governance of the country. It means that the opposition and the ruling party must cooperate in solving the common problems of society; they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each has a legitimate and important role to play.

This type of cooperation is impossible to achieve in a country where the political competitors behave as if they are at war with each other. It is not possible for those in government to deal with an opposition that is not loyal, that is out to paralyse the country with the cooperation of outsiders. It is also not possible for the opposition to cooperate with the political party in power that is out to decimate it.

Therefore, the ground rule of society when it comes to the conduct of politics must encourage patriotism, tolerance and civility. Whatever differences arise must be managed to the benefit of society. Moreover, democracy is, in many ways, nothing more than a set of rules for managing conflict, disagreement, diversity. At the same time, these conflicts, disagreements must be managed within certain limits and result in compromises, consensus or other agreements that all sides accept as legitimate. An over-emphasis on one side of the equation can threaten the entire undertaking. If groups perceive democracy as nothing more than a forum in which they can express their demands and get what they want, the society can shatter from within. If the government exerts excessive pressure to achieve consensus, stifling the voices of the people, the society can be crushed from above.
A multi-party society needs the commitment of citizens who accept the inevitability of conflict as well as the necessity for tolerance.
It is for this reason that the principle of a loyal opposition and the culture of democracy are so important to develop. Individuals and groups must be willing, at a minimum, to tolerate each other's differences, recognising that the other side has valid rights and a legitimate point of view. The various sides to a dispute can then meet in the spirit of compromise and seek a specific solution that builds on the general principle of majority rule and minority rights.
In this way, the opposition and the ruling party can work together, build a coalition. And indeed, coalition building is the essence of multi-party democratic action. It teaches all to negotiate with others, to compromise and work within the constitutional system. By working to establish coalition, groups with differences learn how to argue peaceably, how to pursue their goals in a democratic manner and ultimately how to live in a world of diversity.

We had achieved something of this nature in the last years of Levy Mwanawasa's government with Michael Sata and the Patriotic Front as the leading opposition. Despite losing the opportunity to become president in an election that was very tight and controversial, Michael and the Patriotic Front accepted to provide a loyal, patriotic opposition to Levy and the MMD.

This worked well for the country and created the necessary political stability needed for economic and social development. It increased the confidence of the international community in the political stability of our country without weakening Levy and MMD or Michael and the Patriotic Front. The Zambian people were still able to make a political choice between Levy and Michael, and the MMD and the Patriotic Front.

If the Patriotic Front was able to provide such a loyal and patriotic opposition, why shouldn't the MMD and other opposition do the same? And if the MMD government of Levy was able to work with the opposition Patriotic Front of Michael, why can't we see the same today when the roles have changed?

This experience has shown us that to win power, the opposition doesn't need to be disloyal and unpatriotic; the opposition doesn't need to launch an international campaign to tarnish the image of their own country. We have also seen the failure of such an approach in Zimbabwe and to some extent in Kenya. It doesn't make sense to try to win an election on the back of national failure. And we therefore urge the opposition to change its politics and stop its futile international campaign to tarnish the image of their country. A lot of money is being paid to foreign agents like Robert Amsterdam to campaign against Zambia. Articles are being paid for in influential international media aimed at tarnishing the image of Zambia. Of course, most of this is coming from those representing Rupiah Banda and his family, who think a tarnished Zambian government will not be able to credibly deal with their corruption. And many blind opposition elements have bought into this. There is money being used to champion all this. This is how dangerous corruption and corrupt elements can be to the wellbeing of a country. This is not a recipe for cooperation in the governance of the country. This is a recipe for political polarisation.

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