The Constitution of the Republic of Zambia in Article 60 (2) (d) and (e) states that “a political party shall promote and practice democracy through regular, free and fair elections within the party” and “respect the right of its members to participate in the affairs of their political party”.
How far can one say the Patriotic Front is operating in accordance with these provisions of the Constitution?
Let’s start by refreshing our memories on how Edgar Lungu became president of the Patriotic Front. Initially, Edgar and his supporters wanted the party president to be selected by the central committee which they dominated. It took a lot of pressure for them to half-heartedly accept the convening of an elective conference in Kabwe. But when Edgar and his supporters got to the conference, they ignored all the electoral processes that were put in place and by show of hands declared him the winner. To secure their very questionable act, they manipulated the court processes and sealed it. This is how Edgar became president of the Patriotic Front and its presidential candidate in the January 2015 elections. And the same approach is, more or less, being adopted for the 2020 Patriotic Front leadership selection process in preparation for the 2021 elections.
After this, Edgar has moved to carve the Patriotic Front into a vehicle for personal political survival or preservation. Most of the positions on the central committee of the Patriotic Front are occupied by his appointees. Very few members of today’s Patriotic Front central committee were elected at the party’s last elective conference. And it’s this central committee that he is today using to expel perceived or real competitors for the party presidency. It’s also the one he is using to reconstitute the provincial, district, constituency and ward structures in readiness for 2020. Very few Patriotic Front officials can today claim to have been elected by the members – they are appointees of Edgar. Those who try to question the way the party is being run are told by Edgar to leave and form their own political parties if they are not happy with his leadership or are expelled.
But as we stated before, the number of people not happy with the way their party is being led by Edgar is increasing. And this includes members who, they themselves, in late 2014, manipulated the party’s electoral processes and the country’s adjudication system to make Edgar the leader and presidential candidate of the Patriotic Front. In addition to the voices of Kambwili and Musenge, there’s, among others, Tutwa Ngulube and Kelvin Bwalya Fube. Fube is saying that leadership in the Patriotic Front is not for life or chieftaincy and must therefore be challenged. Ngulube says Edgar’s third term debates are unnecessary. We may not hear Fube and Ngulube’s voices again on these issues and in that way after the example or precedent set by the expulsions of Kambwili and Musenge.
But is this how far the Patriotic Front’s intraparty democracy can be stretched before a member is expelled?
How far did Kambwili and Musenge stray away from the intraparty democracy envisaged by Article 60 (2)(d) and (e) of the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia to justify being expelled? Expulsion of a member from a political party is a very severe form of punishment that must only be applied in the most extreme cases of indiscipline. Can any of the charges against Kambwili and Musenge fit into this category? Putting aside the issues of procedural impropriety and concerns about the laws of natural justice being ignored, it will be very interesting to see how our pro-State House courts will handle this.
The problems of letting leaders settle things among themselves unmindful of the voters who elected them is all too evident in the expulsions and endorsements for 2021 saga playing out in the Patriotic Front. In the purges and endorsements going on in the Patriotic Front, governance seems all but forgotten. That the schemes among the leaders to hold on to power or win it can hold the ruling party and its government hostage raises the issue of the lack of inner party democracy in our political parties.
It is clear that the Patriotic Front is basically run at the whims and fancies of a strong leader – the Alpha and Omega. The Patriotic Front is being run by Edgar as personal fiefdom and party elections, if they can be called that, end up in choosing a leader by ‘consensus’, endorsement, show of hands. Leaders are not chosen in a transparent manner, rather the Alpha and Omega and his coterie do the selection and exclusions – and even expulsions.
Edgar’s declaration at last Saturday’s Patriotic Front central committee meeting, at which he said he was the Alpha and Omega and can make any decisions he wants, bears this out. Now he can argue that the expulsion of Kambwili and Musenge is an internal party matter and that the party has every right to do as it pleases. We really need a model where party members will be able to freely and fairly choose their leaders and not have them decided by a ruling clique.
Article 60 of the Constitution of Zambia has made it clear that there has to be elections for party functionaries but, as it can be seen, in most cases, a consensus is forced and endorsements that have no party constitution basis are made and nothing really changes. But political parties are not like any other association or club.
Political parties control the state apparatus, decide on the spending of public funds and frame legislative mechanisms and are considered the bedrock of our multiparty democracy. So, it is imperative that as part of the strengthening of governance and finessing electoral reforms, intra-party democracy be institutionalised. It is not possible for a political party that is not democratic in its own internal operations to, when in power, run the country in a democratic and tolerant manner.