Why has Edgar Lungu reacted so angrily to the Law Association of Zambia’s caution to the government against abusing the emergency powers?
Was the Law Association of Zambia wrong to
remind the government that any exercise of executive power under Article 31 of the Constitution must be done reasonably?
And was it a crime for the Law Association of Zambia to say that Edgar shouldn’t have rushed to declare the threatened state of emergency? Wasn’t the Law Association of Zambia fulfilling its statutory obligations by clarifying for the public that this threatened state of public emergency cannot be extended at the expiry of three months?
It’s difficult to understand Edgar’s explosive reaction: “Where are the lawyers? Where are the lawyers in this country? If the lawyers want to form a political party, let them go ahead and form a political party – let them not abuse the profession [because] it’s a noble one! For me, I challenge them to form a political party; but let them not abuse the profession, okay!” said Edgar. “If they want to take me on, on that one they can take me on [because] there is so much politics in the Law Association of Zambia. If they want to form a political party, let them go ahead but to abuse a noble profession like the law profession where I belong, it’s unacceptable!”
And since Edgar insists he is not a dictator, we would like to remind him that democracies flourish when they are tended by citizens willing to use their hard-won freedom to participate in the life of their society – adding their voices to the public debate and accepting the need for tolerance and compromise in public life. The citizens of a democracy enjoy the right of individual freedom, but they also share the responsibility of joining with others to shape a future that will continue to embrace the fundamental values of freedom and self-government.
In a democracy, government is only one element coexisting in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, organisations and associations. This diversity is called pluralism, and it assumes that the many organised groups and institutions in a democratic society do not depend upon government for their existence, legitimacy or authority.
Thousands of private organisations operate in a democratic society, some local, some national. Many of them serve a mediating role between individuals and the complex social and governmental institutions of which they are a part, filling roles not given to the government and offering individuals opportunities to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.
In an authoritarian society, virtually all such organisations would be controlled, licensed, watched or otherwise accountable to the government. In a democracy, the powers of government are, by law, clearly defined and sharply limited. In this busy private realm of democratic society, citizens can explore the possibilities of freedom and the responsibilities of self-government – unpressured by the potentially heavy hand of the state.
Democracies make several assumptions about human nature. One is that, given the chance, people are generally capable of governing themselves in a manner that is fair and free. Another is that any society comprises a great diversity of interests and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard and their views respected. The voices of democracy include those of the government, its political supporters and opposition, of course. But they are joined by the voices of labour unions, organised interest groups, community associations, the news media, scholars and critics, religious leaders and writers, small businesses and large corporations, churches and schools.
All these groups are free to raise their voices and participate in the democratic political process without transforming themselves into political parties.
In this way, democratic politics acts as a filter through which the vocal demands of a diverse populace pass on the way to becoming public policy.
This certainly calls for a lot of political tolerance. And as we have stated before, there is nothing virtuous or noble about being “tolerant” of people whose attitudes and behaviours you approve of. If you don’t defend the freedom of even those individuals whose attitudes and behaviours you find disgusting, narrow-minded and offensive, then you are not tolerant. To “tolerate” doesn’t mean you like it or approve of it; it means only that you allow it to exist – that is, you refrain from violently interfering. The people who look to “government” to force people to be “nice” are not tolerant.
Government is quite literally a necessary evil, but there must be opposition, between its various branches, and between political parties, civil society organisations like the Law Association of Zambia, for these are the only ways to temper the individual’s greed for power and the electorates’ desires for peace by submission to coercion or blandishment.