Monday, December 16, 2013

Unite for the common good
By Editor
Sat 02 Nov. 2013, 14:00 CAT

THOSE who are ready to join hands can overcome the greatest challenges. For our country, one of the most important things is unity - of our people, our forces and our country.

Without unity, we will have instability. And with instability will come divisions. Our country will be divided into countless parts. And with divisions, our country will not be able to tackle its basic problems.
Therefore, whatever political arrangements we come up with to govern the affairs of our country should promote unity.

It cannot be denied that although multi-party politics appear to the best form of political organisation, if not handled properly can be a source of serious divisions and instability in our country. We will never go back to the one party state, de jure or de facto. This is so because the one party political system has been found wanting. The single party state, except at rare moments in history, is a recipe for tyranny. We have learnt from the Soviet experience and from the African experience that the concept of a one party state is a disaster. And we therefore have to work very hard and entrench the multi-party political culture.

But without the necessary culture of tolerance, consensus and coalition building, we will not get much out of our multi-party politics. Multi-party democracy is not a machine that runs by itself once the proper principles and procedures are inserted. A multi-party society needs the commitment of its citizens who accept the inevitability of conflict as well as the necessity for unity, co-operation and tolerance.

It is important to recognise that some of the many conflicts that tend to divide us on party lines are not between clear-cut "right" and "wrong", but between different perceptions of multi-party political rights and social priorities.

There are no easy solutions or guidelines for addressing these issues. And it is for this reason that the culture of multi-party democracy is so important to develop. Individuals and their political parties 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. When there are differences, they should meet in a spirit of compromise and seek a specific solution that builds on the general principle of majority rule and minority rights.

As we have stated before, coalition building is the essence of multi-party democratic action. This is so because it teaches people from different political affiliations to negotiate with others, to compromise and to work within the constitutional system. And by working to establish coalition, politicians from different political parties with differences learn how to argue peaceably, how to pursue their goals in a democratic manner and ultimately how to live and work in a world of political diversity and plurality.

It is equally for these reasons why we have been advocating for "loyal opposition". We know some narrow-minded politicians have denounced our appeal for a "loyal opposition" because in their narrow-mindedness, they see this as a way of trying to bring them under the control of the ruling party.

Anyone committed to the idea of multi-party politics cannot suggest schemes that destroy political diversity and plurality and attempt to create a one party state by the back door. What we are simply advocating is a situation where all our political parties share a common commitment to the basic values of a multi-party political dispensation. Political competitors don't necessarily have to like each other for them to unite in dealing with problems and challenges facing our country, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each has a legitimate and important role to play. Moreover, the ground rules of the society must encourage tolerance and civility in political discourse. And no matter who wins elections, all must agree to co-operate in solving the common problems of our country.

We are not in any way suggesting that for there to be national unity and stability, those in the opposition should be loyal to the specific policies of the party in government. No. We are simply saying that those in the opposition should be loyal to the fundamental legitimacy of the state, and to the multi-party democratic process itself.

We call for unity among our political parties, and especially between the opposition and the ruling party, because multipartism can indeed favour democracy but cannot always guarantee it. Democracy, like any other human institution, is vulnerable and fragile. As Pope John Paul II correctly observed, "authentic democracy is possible only in a state ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person".

Therefore, a real multi-party democracy in this country has to be built on the basis of justice and moral values and has to look to the common good. And this common good is not simply the addition of individual particular interests; "rather, it involves an assessment and integration of those interests on the basis of a balanced hierarchy of values; ultimately it demands a correct understanding of the dignity and rights of the person" (Pope John Paul II, on the Human Person at the Centre of the Society, No.37).

We shouldn't also forget that multi-party democracy is a demanding form of government, and neither leaders nor citizens are naturally prepared for it. A long process of moral and civic education is required in order to understand and to implement a real multi party democracy.

There is no perfect form of human government. Abuses can take place in every system, but the fundamental value of multi-party democracy is to allow the participation of citizens in the government of their country. In this regard, multi-party democracy as a system of government is consonant with human rights and the respect of human dignity and freedom. In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is explicit in affirming the value of political participation: "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of one's own country, directly or through freely chosen representatives." The right to political participation is equally enhanced by the African Charter on Human and People's Rights approved by the member states of the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union, in their meeting of June 1981 in Nairobi.

It is common knowledge that no system is perfect. And this includes our multi-party political system. Any system, no matter how good its principles may be, can be manipulated in order to exploit the very people whose best interests it is meant to serve.

We therefore value our multi-party democratic system in as much as it ensures the participation of our people in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.

Multi-party democratic participation requires, not only the creation of political parties and structure, but also the reign of multi-party democratic values in the hearts and minds of our politicians, their cadres and followers and indeed in all our people. A proliferation of political parties without the corresponding multi-party political values in the heart and minds of our people are rootless. There is need for a multi-party democratic culture that will help give full meaning to our multi-party political dispensation and ensure our success in fostering the welfare and progress of our country.

For a multi-party political system to function well, there is need for multi-party democratically minded people - a true multi-party democratic spirit.

It is for these reasons that we welcome MMD's attempt to work, in certain areas and on certain things, with the ruling Patriotic Front. Doing so, contrary to the perceptions of politically narrow-minded elements, will not weaken the opposition. It will actually strengthen the opposition and give it the credibility it now lacks. Unity is for the good of the country and the common good and as such, it cannot result in weakening the opposition or the ruling party.

But those in the MMD should not in any way deceive themselves that co-operation or unity with the ruling Patriotic Front will mean a licence to doing wrong things, to corruption. Those who are facing corruption charges or investigation, like Dora Siliya, should not in any way deceive themselves that with co-operation or unity with the Patriotic Front, their corruption prosecutions or investigations will be halted. This is not the unity that the Zambian people expect from all this. That will actually not be unity but impunity. If anything, the new leadership of the MMD should join hands with the Patriotic Front government to investigate and prosecute the corruption of the Rupiah Banda regime and those before it. MMD should not continue to be seen to be a political party that favours corruption and corrupt elements. We know that MMD party president Nevers Mumba is facing legitimate corruption charges in our courts of law. The MMD should not try to misinterpret this as vindictiveness, vengeance or an attempt to crash the opposition. No one should be above the law regardless of the political position they occupy. If Nevers did something wrong, he should be prosecuted. If at the end of the trial he is found to be innocent, he should be acquitted without any hesitation. That's how the rule of law operates.

We hope this is the unity and political co-operation that Dora and her colleagues are talking about and are seeking. Anything else will be a deformation of genuine and legitimate unity and co-operation.

And the MMD's decision to attend independence celebrations is a good thing but it is not a favour to the Patriotic Front and its government. MMD is simply doing what it should be doing; it is simply fulfilling a duty that it should fulfil. Independence Day celebrations do not belong to the ruling party. It belongs to us all. And those in government have a duty to make the atmosphere at these celebrations conducive for all patriots, regardless of their political affiliations, to attend. Independence Day celebrations are not and should never be a ruling party function but a national and state function. And if one looks at things this way, it will not be difficult to realise that the position the MMD has taken on national events is the correct one and that the position of the UPND on this score is a misinformed and ignorant one and seriously lacks patriotism.

It will also be difficult for a political party led by a patriot like Michael Sata to co-operate with a treacherous political party that has no respect for the independence of our country. You cannot claim to love your country without being a patriot. Lack of patriotism leads to a lot of treacherous acts. It is this lack of patriotism that led some elements in MMD and UPND to launch an international campaign calling for sanctions against their own country in defence of Rupiah and his corruption. Unity and co-operation is only possible among political parties that are patriotic, regardless of the differences in their specific policies.

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