Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lawlessness and elections
By Editor
Wed 24 July 2013, 14:00 CAT

DR Biemba Maliti, NAREP's chairman for elections, says the levels of intolerance among political parties during election campaigns are worrying. Dr Maliti says the levels of lawlessness being exhibited by political parties in Solwezi East, Chipata and Kafulafuta parliamentary by-election campaigns must be quickly checked because it has the potential to negate the country's democracy.

He says it is sad that the country has some opposition political parties that have refused to recognise the country's democratic dispensation and the need to respect divergent views of people in various matters of governance. Why is this so? This is so because people in politics have forgotten or are ignoring the purpose or essence of politics.

It is necessary to remind them all the time that politics is for the good of the people and the country, and not for the political survival of any individual or political party. We believe that if this spirit of the primacy of the common good were to animate all the political parties, we would not witness the intolerance which has left Dr Maliti and many other Zambians of goodwill worried, dismayed and disheartened.

It's good Dr Maliti is openly expressing concern regarding the frequent incidents of intolerance, intimidation and lust for power as we approach these parliamentary by-elections. To address his concerns, our politicians and their supporters need to be taken back and reminded of the noble goals of political activities. Politics and the elections that accompany it are not a fight for survival but a competition to serve. Elections are not a battlefield where the aim is to destroy the other.

Many people of goodwill, including ourselves, have been preaching about the need for tolerance, civility and decency in election campaigns. But little change seems to be taking place; our words seem to be falling on deaf ears. Election campaigns are still not being carried out in an honest way, devoid of lies and slander, character assassination of political opponents. Electoral laws are being ignored, broken with impunity.

We cannot say we want free and fair elections when we ignore its very foundation: civility and honest campaigns. This is not an attempt to school anyone about the need for decency. It is an attempt to address a huge political problem. Attitudes have to change.

And we need to bring a change in the way we do politics, the way we carry out our election campaigns and the way we treat each other as citizens of our society. A decent society is not based on rights. It is based on duty. Our duty to each other. To all should be given opportunity; from all, responsibility is demanded, the duty to show respect and tolerance to others .

We back zero tolerance on political intolerance. We back efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour; to make political parties responsible for the behaviour of their cadres and supporters, the way it is done with fans at soccer matches; to overhaul the judicial system so that political cadres and supporters stop thinking they can commit crimes under the guise of politics and electioneering and carry on being criminals with impunity.

Of course, some may cry foul, claiming they are being politically harassed by law enforcement agencies. But to all those who may say it's all a threat to their political rights, we say the threat to political rights lies in their conduct, which stops others from freely carrying out their political campaigns out of fear of being harassed, beaten or even killed. And when political opportunities are given to people, there is always a demand for responsibility.

Unless we do something about political intolerance and the crimes being committed in the name of politics, we will not be able to repair this country.

The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. One is that by the very order of things, such evils are not demonstrable until they have caused a crisis.

But we have to think about the future all the time. The besetting temptation of all politics is to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future.

And it is important to always bear in mind that the life of every one of us in this country is inevitably mixed with that of every other citizen and, no matter what laws we pass, no matter what precautions we take, unless the people we meet are kindly and decent and humane and peace-loving, there is no peaceful future for us. Peace and all the good things that accompanies it come from human beings, rather than from laws and institutions. It is said that the individual does best in a strong and decent community of people with principles and standards and common aims and values.

Today's politics is about the common good, the wellbeing of all in a changing world. We must build a strong, decent, civil and active society that can provide it. We cannot buy our way to a peaceful society. We must work for it together. We must plan for it together because this can only be done together.

We shouldn't try to win elections on the basis of being the most feared, the most intimidating, but because we are understood, supported, trusted. We shouldn't win elections because our political opponents are despised, but because the people have more faith in us.

There is no choice between being principled and unelectable; and electable and unprincipled. We should win because of what we believe. We should make sure the electorate know us; our identity and our character as individuals and as political parties.

Things are changing. They cannot remain the same all the time. Our people are getting tired of that violent type of politics. There has to be some change. And change is an important part of life. We have to change. Those who don't change die. If the world around us is changing, and we don't, then we become of no use to it. Even our principles cease being principles and just ossify into dogma.

And by changing we are not asking anyone to change their principles; we are actually asking them to fulfil them; we are not asking anyone to lose their identity but to keep their relevance. We are asking all this because change is an important part of gaining the nation's trust.

Those in politics need to convince our people and show them that politics is not a dirty game, a violent undertaking or a heartless vocation but a real and meaningful part of their lives. To do this, there is need to show our people that we are a nation of tolerance and that we have an innate sense of fair play.

It is in this spirit that we join Dr Maliti in expressing concern for the unending intolerance, dishonesty, malice, lies and slander that today characterise our politics and election campaigns and which it is our duty to bring to an end. We, therefore, call for honesty, civility and decency in all our election campaigns.

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