UNITED States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote has advised the Patriotic Front and their main rivals UPND to take a step back and “get out of the campaign mode and get into a Zambia mode”.
And Ambassador Foote says the dialogue process needs to be taken out of the press.
Since the disputed 2016 elections, the country’s two big contenders – PF and UPND – have constantly been in campaign mode.
The dialogue process to quell the current political situation also doesn’t seem in sight as both sides have put up demands for it to take off.
When asked to comment on the political situation in Zambia, Ambassador Foote, who has been in Zambia for four months, said political parties seem more worried about winning elections and were constantly in the campaign mode.
“And so I mentioned today (Friday) to an official here in Zambia that we have to kind of take a step out of constant campaign mode for a moment. So take a step back and get the parties out of the campaign mode and get into a Zambia mode and decide how to best improve things, go through the processes to do and then they can go back into the campaign mode where they are worried about their parties trying to win. But in the beginning, let’s come together and figure out what’s best for the country,” Ambassador Foote advised.
Asked if he had met and discussed with both President Edgar Lungu and UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema on the best way to approach dialogue, Ambassador Foote said: “I have. Look they have, and rightlyfully so, both sides have reasonable requests and reasonable things, and they both have perhaps unreasonable expectations as well.”
The Commonwealth-brokered talks among political parties are still pending, while the PF and UPND, who are the main stakeholders to the dialogue process following their huge electoral differences that saw the detention of Hichilema for refusing to recognise President Lungu, continue to make commitments through the press.
The PF have given a condition that for dialogue to take place, the UPND and Hichilema must first recognise President Lungu as the “duly elected Head of State”.
The UPND, on the other hand, are insisting on having the presidential petition heard.
Another major contention at the moment is the government’s incorporation of the Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID) as the main facilitators of the dialogue process.
The UPND feel the ZCID is politically inclined and not the best institution to facilitate dialogue, preferring the Commonwealth to take the lead.
“I fear everybody is trying to create a dialogue structure without getting out of the press and out of the paper and sitting down with both sides and deciding what we need. And I think both sides agree that there has to be electoral reforms and constitutional reforms, and there should be more…Zambians and civil society as part of the process so that we get to a point where elections represent the Zambian people and the government does the best for the nation and the people as a whole,” Ambassador Foote said.
“We support the dialogue process but it has been stagnant, it has been slow and what we are working on with both sides now is to try to get them out of having a conversation in the newspapers and having a real meaningful conversation and determine how we can proceed in private.”
Citing the electoral dispute that arose in the United States in 2000 and the recent one in Kenya following last year’s elections, the Ambassador said Zambia was equally capable of putting behind the differences from the 2016 elections.
“This is not the first country to go through this; the United States went through it in 2000; Kenya went through it last year. We have had a number of disputed elections in the world and Zambia is certainly as capable…it’s going to take getting the contention out of the press and sitting down behind the closed doors and really having a meaningful process that includes the voices of all Zambians,” said Ambassador Foote.