Monday, June 03, 2013

Hypocrisy about by-elections
By Editor
Sat 01 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

Parliamentary by-elections are certainly an expensive or costly affair.

And invariably, all political players would like to avoid them wherever and whenever it is desirable to do so. But there are also times when those who think they can gain something from them love them, like them. All hate parliamentary by-elections when there are no benefits for them. They love or like them when there are political gains from them.

If today Sylvia Masebo was to defect from the ruling Patriotic Front and join the opposition UPND, no one in the leadership, membership of that party would oppose that move. They would actually celebrate that defection and would happily go for a by-election. Equally, those in the Patriotic Front would rejoice at similar defections from the opposition. So in truth, there is no political group that is totally in support of or in opposition to parliamentary by-elections. It all depends on what they are to gain or to lose from them.

For now, the defections of members of parliament seem to be in one direction - from the opposition to the ruling party. And as a result of this, the opposition is crying in fear of being destroyed, its numbers being reduced by these defections.

The opposition's concern when it comes to parliamentary by-elections is not really about the costs. It is really about the political losses, the reduction in the numbers of members of parliament under their parties.

If the opposition were so worried about the cost, they would not expel any of their members of parliament and force a by-election. And as Nickson Chilangwa aptly put it, if the opposition was truly and genuinely opposed to parliamentary by-elections on account of cost, they would never participate in any such elections. The consequence of this would be a parliamentary by-election without a cost because one would win without being opposed, without an election being conducted.
If the opposition is truly opposed to parliamentary by-elections on account of cost, they should not expel any of their members of parliament to save costs. Are they capable of not doing so? No. They are ready, when it suits them, to take actions that will result in parliamentary by-elections.

So there is some hypocrisy on this issue. By-elections are sometimes undesirable to our politicians and their political parties but not for the reasons of cost they are advancing. The true reason is fear of loss of power. If they could win all the by-elections, none of them would complain about the cost of by-elections.

The UPND, a few weeks ago, called on the President to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections less than two years in office. This, they claimed, would save the country the cost of parliamentary by-elections. Is this correct? Is this true? No. A general election will be more costly to hold than the parliamentary by-elections that are being held. And one doesn't need to be a mathematician, accountant or economist to come to this conclusion. Simple arithmetic is all one needs to demonstrate the falsity of what is being suggested. And this suggestion is not as a result of ignorance about election costs. They know the costs of elections. They want a general election not for the purpose of saving costs. They want a general election in the hope that they can win and get into power.

This is not strange for the UPND. It is a political party that has always overrated its chances. It is a party that has always failed to read the political situation in the country correctly. In their mistaken view, and as always, they think now they are more popular than the Patriotic Front and they are in a position to win any general election that is called before 2016. After listening to their own voices discrediting, slandering Michael Sata and the Patriotic Front government, they think these are the voices of the people of Zambia.

They deceived themselves the same way in the run-up to the 2011 elections. They used to claim that Hakainde Hichilema was more popular than Michael and that the political landscape in Lusaka and the Copperbelt had changed in their favour. They also used to deceive themselves that with Frederick Chiluba's support, Rupiah Banda would sweep Luapula Province. Of course, to them everything is about tribe, region. They thought simply because Chiluba hailed from Luapula, then he would deliver the votes from that area to Rupiah, whom he was working with and supporting. Things don't work that way. Even in Mongu, they thought they were in control. But when the elections came, Michael and the Patriotic Front defeated all of them in this headquarters of Western Province.

And these characters used to claim in the run-up to the 2011 elections that no opposition political party, including themselves, was in a position to defeat the MMD alone. They joined forces with MMD but were defeated single-handedly by Michael and the Patriotic Front. Again, they failed to read the politics of this country correctly. When are they going to learn to see things the way they are and adopt correct political strategies and tactics?

It is true that parliamentary by-elections cost a lot of money and are as such not desirable. But we are not going to wish them away without making the necessary constitutional changes. As long as people have the right and opportunity to change political parties, they will do so and cause parliamentary by-elections. And as long as we continue to depend on the goodwill and judgement of individuals without the necessary constitutional restrictions and political culture, by-elections will continue. Look at the number of people changing political parties every day! Imagine if all these were members of parliament or councilors, how many by-elections would we have to hold every month?

Ours is a country where even leaders of political parties, presidents of political parties defect to other parties. Imagine how many by-elections we would hold at this level if there was some restrictive mechanism that required such an election when party presidents defect!
For instance, how can Nevers Mumba, the president of MMD, today complain about parliamentary by-elections, forgetting where he himself is coming from? Nevers abandoned his own political party, defected from his own political party to join the MMD and become vice-president of the Republic. And when he ceased to be the vice-president, Nevers applied to be adopted as a Patriotic Front parliamentary candidate for Chinsali Central. But he was rejected at the last minute by the Patriotic Front leaders and supporters in Chinsali. Today, this same Nevers is the president of the MMD and is demanding that others shouldn't do what he himself found right and correct to do - defect!

Clearly, there is hypocrisy and dishonesty about this issue of parliamentary by-elections. Let's deal with it in an honest way and find ways of putting to an end, if possible, these expensive by-elections.

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