We can’t afford these costly by-elections

Civil Society Constitution Agenda treasurer Judith Mulenga says while they shared the common belief that democracy was an expensive undertaking, that doesn’t entail it must be a wasteful project.

“It is important that as a nation we save as much resources as possible whenever we can in order to increase our level of investment in the delivery of social services for improved quality of life of our citizens. In our view, cutting off by-elections could free up significant amounts of financial resources that could be channelled towards improving social service delivery. We cannot afford the luxury of by-elections when majority of citizens do not have basic things such as clean and safe drinking water, which they are entitled to have as part of their rights,” says Mulenga, adding that it is sad that the country missed an opportunity to address the issue of by-elections during the last constitution review process.

Mulenga says the issue could be cured by adopting a proportional representation system for the positions of member of parliament as well as in the local government system.

“We hold the view that such a system would not only significantly reduce resource wastage but would also promote national unity. It would allow respective political parties to fill any position which becomes vacant by a person from within their own rank and file using their own internal systems whenever and wherever such a vacancy occurs without having to hold a costly by- election as the case is today.”

Without getting into the merits or demerits of proportional representation, we can state without hesitation that by-elections serve no meaningful purpose and should be done away with.

With low voter turnouts of as low as 16 per cent, it’s clear that Zambian voters are not interested in by-elections. Most, if not all, by-elections have attracted very low voter turnouts. Why?

But instead of reducing by-elections, we have increased them. We have added by-elections for council chairpersons and mayors. For what?

It should be easy to replace a council chairperson or mayor without having to hold a costly by-election.

Equally, why should we hold such expensive by-elections to replace councillors and members of parliament?

If we can replace a president of the Republic without holding a ‘by-election’, why should we be forced to do so for a councillor, council chairperson, mayor or member of parliament?

It really doesn’t make sense and cannot justify the expense.

We must see to it that all our leaders and all our people constantly bear in mind that ours is an economically poor country. To make Zambia rich and strong needs intense effort, which will include, among other things, the effort to practice strict economy and combat waste, that is, the policy of building up our country through diligence and frugality.

Diligence and frugality should be practiced in running our elections and other governance requirements.

The principle of diligence and frugality should be observed in everything.
We must pay special attention to economy. We must not take a short view of things and indulge in wastefulness. Thrift should be the guiding principle in our government expenditure.

By-elections are unquestionably expensive. This fact is beyond dispute.
Administrative costs alone add up to millions per by-election. Added to this are the costs of political campaigns, expanded media coverage, additional security, and special election dispute resolution mechanisms.

There are also significant supplementary costs associated with public education on electoral processes, rights and obligations, advertising providing election process information to citizens and so on and so forth.

We know it is said that elections are an investment, not an expense. But even an investment must be a prudent one. It can’t be an exercise of just throwing money around.

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