Sesheke violence a bad advert for our nascent democracy, says VJ

THE violence we witnessed in Sesheke and Lundazi is a bad advert for our nascent democracy and should not be tolerated under any circumstances, says veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga.

He argues that elections in which the opposition is barred access to the media, particularly the state media, has its rallies prevented by force, blacked out and denied newspaper coverage or censored, cannot be described free, fair or democratic.

Mwaanga on Wednesday said machetes should have no room in Zambia’s electoral process.

“They are a disgrace,” he said. “When our Electoral process becomes more transparent, public confidence in our election management bodies will grow. It will also ensure that when the elections are over, losers will accept the results more readily. Those who lose transparent elections will be encouraged to continue participating in public affairs and in the wider political process of the country, in the knowledge that their role of holding the government accountable is vital in a democratic society.”

Mwaanga said democratic elections were after all, not a fight for life or death but a mere competition to serve one’s country and people. He said candidates for political elective office must be free to campaign and voters must have the freedom to cast their votes without intimidation, threats or any form of violence.

“In any democracy worth its name, the authority of those in government derives solely from the consent of the governed,” Mwaanga said. “The principal mechanism for translating that consent into governmental authority, is the periodic holding of free, fair and credible elections, whose outcome must always reflect the true wishes of the people. Democratic elections should not be merely symbolic. They should be competitive, inclusive, free from rigging and violence, where decision makers in government or in the opposition are genuinely and freely selected by citizens without intimidation or cohesion, who enjoy broad freedom.”

He said those in the opposition who challenge those in government must enjoy the freedom of speech and movement to campaign freely, criticise government policies and offer alternatives.

“It is not enough to simply allow opposition parties access to the ballot. Elections in which the opposition is barred access to the media, particularly the state media, has its rallies prevented by force, blacked out and denied newspaper coverage or censored, cannot be described free, fair or democratic,” Mwaanga said. “While I accept that the party or parties in power, may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, the rules governing the conduct of democratic elections must be applied fairly to all participants without exception. Because democratic elections are periodic, they do not elect dictators who stay in office for life. They enable the people to elect leaders at various levels from the local councillors to the Presidents, who are accountable to the people and who must go back to them at periodic intervals to seek their mandate to continue in office. What this means in essence is that public officials in a functioning democracy must accept the risk of being voted out of office. Usually, this happens when there are unpopular policies, corruption, incompetence or inability to keep election campaign promises. Renewal of political leadership from time to time is healthy and even desirable.”

He said democracies were supposed to thrive on openness and accountability, with perhaps one exception namely the act of voting itself.

“Here is the troubling part, which has been a source of suspicion and even conflict in many countries in Africa, including Zambia, the tallying of vote totals which is done in secret,” he said. “It is my considered view, that this part of the electoral process must be conducted as openly as possible, so that citizens and participating candidates and political parties, feel confident that the results announced are accurate and reflect the true wishes of the people. I am encouraged that countries like Nigeria, have opened up this aspect of their Electoral process since 2015, benefitting largely from the recommendations of the Electoral Reforms Technical Committee of Zambia, which was appointed by president Levy Mwanawasa and chaired by prominent Lusaka lawyer Mrs Mwangala Zaloumis. This is absolutely critical, because it means in essence, that all sides in a democracy must share a common commitment to basic values.”

Mwaanga said political competitors be they from the Patriotic Front (PF), UPND, NAREP, ADD, DP or MMD “don’t have to like each other but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each has a legitimate and important role to play.”

“Our society must promote and encourage civility and tolerance in public affairs,” said Mwaanga.

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