No choice, no democracy!

Senior chief Bright Nalubamba says leaders that use power to intimidate opponents are shallow minded and such behaviour must not be allowed to continue. We agree. Nalubamba says multiparty democracy in Zambia is under threat from politics of appeasement. And he is wondering what the role of the opposition should be if it is not to provide effective checks and balances so as to enable development take place.

And he is urging those with power to reason with their opponents and find a lasting solution to the problems the country is facing instead of practicing shallow minded politics of intimidation. The role of the opposition used to be well-understood in this country. But under Edgar Lungu’s reign, political parties have become so polarised that the tendency has become to see the other side as fundamentally evil, or at least stupid. The multiparty political dispensation seems at first to be more confrontational and vitriolic; but at least in a good multiparty democracy the parties don’t deny the right of other parties to exist.

In a multiparty democracy, the opposition has a clear role: to propose, and to explain and defend, an alternative to the government’s current policies and practices. This is important, because it ensures that at the next election, the voting public always has a choice. And where the opposition is denied meaningful existence there cannot meaningful democratic choices – no choice, no democracy!

The role of opposition in any multiparty democracy is to ask right questions from the government and mandate government to reply to those questions honestly. This is the basic fulcrum on which multiparty democracy runs. Multiparty democracy by design has to ensure that all voices are heard and government responds adequately and timely. However, now opposition has converted into enemy. Edgar Lungu’s government is indulging in scams and its strategy to brazen out its scams (remember ‘uubomba mwibala alila mwibala’) has a profound adverse impact on our multiparty democracy.

We hope, the Zambian voters will punish the Patriotic Front in the 2021 elections for undermining and destroying Zambia’s multiparty democracy. In a democratic country, opposition counts. Democratic systems function with checks and balances. They also rely on transparency, accountability and responsibility.

Democracies become complete with opposition. Those in government, meanwhile, have to pay respect to the presence of opposition.

They have to internalise and digest the fundamental principle of democracy that dictates “winners do not and should not take all”. The result of the ballot box is only the indication that the election has turned out in favour of a certain political view and the policies that entail it are all embodied in the programme of a political party. But there are other views of other political parties and they also need to be taken into consideration. The Patriotic Front’s failure to accept this is severe violation of the functioning of a democratic system and does not bring progress. It only brings the backwardness we are today witnessing.

Zambia has been going through a critical period in its democratic history.

It is true that Zambia is facing multiple challenges.

But these challenges should do not deter adherence to democratic principles. Those in government must have the humility and courage to ask the opposition to come forward with their own views and ideas about how these challenges the country faces can be tackled. They may not agree on everything, but ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward can be found.

Clearly, opposition political parties, if allowed adequate political space, can be key pillars of “good” governance, the rule of law and the protection of human rights in this country. Edgar and his minions’ “illiberal” approach to politics is suffocating competitive party politics. While opposition parties are trying very hard to play an increasingly important role in shaping policy agendas, conducting civic education, and fighting corruption, singly or in alliance with the media, they continue to face challenges that constrain the democratisation project.

The ruling Patriotic Front continues to dig deep into the national treasury and use official resources and kickbacks from those doing business with government to out-compete opposition parties.

Opposition parties continue to be victims of legal and political restrictions designed by Edgar and his minions.

The opposition, then, is essentially a “government-in-the-waiting”. For a culture of multiparty democracy to take hold, our opposition parties need to have the confidence that the political system will guarantee their right to organise, speak, dissent and/or criticise Edgar and his ruling Patriotic Front.

But history shows that neither the expansion of political space nor the transformation of human wrongs into human rights has ever come on a silver plate.

Both have been products of struggles. And we have no alternative but to struggle for a more far, just and humane Zambia./

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