The registration of political parties is not something that should be left to the discretion of the Minister of Home Affairs and the civil servants working under him.
Under Edgar Lungu’s regime, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the government units under it, has become a tool for stifling opposition.
There’s now no department or unit under the Ministry of Home Affairs that can be said to be operating professionally and without political interference. The police has become a tool for the harassment and humiliation of opposition leaders, cadres and supporters. And the Minister of Home Affairs has made it very clear that whatever we see the police doing is in accordance with his orders.
To deny a political party registration is not something that should be taken lightly. It violates very important constitutional rights – the freedom of association. Today it is the refusal to register the Zambian Democrats Party, tomorrow it will be the registration of a political party that is posing a threat to their hold on power – a party that is likely to win the next elections or that which is likely to alter the voting pattern against them.
This is unacceptable abuse of power and must be stopped.
If there are some omissions or errors on the registration forms or information provided, the remedy is not to deny the party registration. This can be cured by amendments or corrections.
It cannot be denied that the refusal to register this party is because it is believed to be connected to Harry Kalaba. The decision has been made to deny Kalaba a political platform for contesting the presidential elections in 2021. According to a letter dated February 21 addressed to Zambian Democrats Party representative Mark Ngoma, principal registrar at the Registrar of Societies Chipo Banda stated that the application was unsuccessful due to “various reasons”, without elaborating further. This decision based on “various reasons” has proudly been upheld by the Minister of Home Affairs.
Should the Registrar of Societies and the Minister of Home Affairs be allowed to deny a political party registration without giving reasons? And according to sources at the Registrar of Societies, the Zambian Democrats Party made an application for registration last September but it was being ignored on instructions from the “higher authorities”.
Political interference in the process of registering political parties should end. We are aware that it took more than a year to get the Socialist Party registered. And the reasons for that delay were political interference. It took just about two weeks to register the NDC. The reasons for this relatively short period were political interference. It was thought to be a way of getting Chishimba Kambwili out of the Patriotic Front. But it backfired!
Given the importance of political parties in the governance of our country, their registration cannot be treated in this arbitrary manner. Political parties are a central feature of any democracy, let alone a multiparty one. Political parties allow us to come together and campaign for public office, express our interests and define goals for our nation. Registration of political parties gives these groups legal status, defining their rights and roles in society.
Whatever the exact requirements, the registration process of our political parties must be based on clear criteria and applied fairly to all who apply.
Zambians should be allowed to freely associate in political organisations and seek government office based on their common interests. Otherwise, the Zambian voters may be deprived of the opportunity to make their choices as to who has authority to govern them. Unless such organisations receive legal recognition through registration, they may not be able to present themselves on the ballot or otherwise seek peaceful political change. In order to protect our rights to organise, the registration of political parties must be based on reasonable, clear criteria and not the fears of Edgar. And these criteria must be made public, so interested citizens know what steps they must take to get legal recognition of their party. The criteria must also be applied impartially and in the same manner to all who seek to register. Any rejections should be explained clearly, and those who are rejected should have an opportunity to appeal the decision without incurring any costs of paying lawyers. With information about the political party registration process, citizens can take steps to get legal status for their organizations.
And all of us should have the opportunity to assess whether the rules are fair to begin with and whether they are applied fairly to all who apply. This type of analysis relates to whether the process is inclusive, with reasonable opportunities for citizens to organise and campaign for office, and compete, with equal chance for a range of groups across the political spectrum to take part.
Political parties perform an important task in government. They bring people together to achieve control of the government, develop policies unfavourable to their interests or the groups that support them, and organize and persuade voters to elect their candidates to office. In other words, parties are pretty important. It is hard to imagine our multiparty political system functioning as effectively without them. But if they are such a great thing, why are we leaving their registration to such arbitrariness? If parties are so essential to our democratic form of government, why don’t we establish a whole slew of them in an unrestricted way?
Political parties are indispensable for the working of our multiparty political dispensation. The importance of political parties lies in the fact that democracies cannot function without their existence. In the absence of organised political parties, one cannot just think of the working of representative government.
The political parties in more than one way unite, simplify and stabilise the political process of our country. We have not forgotten the tensions of the one party era.
The essential function of any party is to recruit men of integrity, letters, action, leadership to its fold as members and prepare them for election in future. It is these members of party who propagate the party ideologies, discuss the burning issues and hold meetings and press conferences to mobilise public support. It is these leaders again who contest in the election and form government if elected to power. Such leaders being drawn from public life are expected to understand expectations of the common people and formulate public policies accordingly. Parties always get popularity and recognition through their leaders only.
It’s very clear that the decision not to register the Zambian Democrats Party is based on fear.
It seems this is the way Edgar always deals with political opponents. Every single decision or action he ever undertakes seems to arise out of a thought of fear.
But fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hoards, harms.
Fear clings to and clutches all that we have; it holds close, grasps, rankles.
It is said that fear is one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
Where there’s fear, even clearly false evidence appears real.
This power they are trying to cling to at any cost will soon prove disastrous for them.