[By Melvin Chisanga]
Ever since the ballot box was adopted as the womb from which national leadership in a democratic dispensation was to be born, elections have, among other things, remained the most dreaded experiences for, especially, unpopular leaders.
They are dreaded because left to play out organically, the rules and regulations that govern elections do prescribe a very levelled playing field, on which the mostly complacent and non-performing incumbent ruling classes can easily be humiliated by the mostly hope-inspiring aspirants anytime, anywhere.
Typical of non-performing incumbents, the PF has for a long time been trying to ride on its incumbency to either have easy passage through the 2021 political toll gate by way of compromising the personnel required to authorise their passage by denying them their universal suffrage, or by completely avoiding the toll gate altogether by total postponement on any flimsy grounds.
Since the PF government took over the instruments of power from the MMD, the 2021 elections will be its second tripartite, but third presidential election to handle, having overseen the January 2015 presidential by-election too.
At parliamentary, council and ward levels, it has handled enough for one to draw a conclusion about its electoral policy of promoting voter apathy.
Considering it from the cost versus benefit point of view, voter apathy usually emanates from the feeling that the cost that a potential voter stands to incur by going to vote is more than the benefit of staying away. Happy are the leaders in office whose people will not see any need to vote because they have no intentions of changing them.
Any political party in power or leader worthy their salt knows what mostly motivates the citizens’ determination to participate in an election: the propensity to hire and fire leaders.
Alive to this fact and knowing the electoral advantage that voter apathy, more often than not, renders to the incumbent, the PF has for the longest time sought to devise ways to draw some political capital from the voter apathy phenomenon through different machinations.
One of their strategies to induce voter apathy has been violence. Knowing how peace-loving Zambians are, they have sought to make the election atmosphere so hostile that the Zambian voter has come to realise that they can only exercise their right to vote at the expense of their own safety.
The other way the PF have tried to ensure voter apathy is, ironically, by the use of the very institution that is supposed to be encouraging every eligible citizen to vote: the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
As a creature of an act of Parliament, both mandated and funded by the people of Zambia to handle all electoral affairs in this country, the ECZ is duty bound to live up to the expectations of its ultimate creator: the people of Zambia.
It is disheartening to see how the ECZ has seemingly fallen prey to the manipulations of the party in power. As if it has forgotten that it owes its allegiance to the people of Zambia, the commission has become so amenable to all the undemocratic tendencies of the PF.
The tendencies are quite many, but for the sake of not losing the main thought, I shall endeavour to restrict this article to those that are potential causes of voter apathy.
As the body responsible of ensuring political player compliance with the entire electoral code and conduct, the ECZ is quite ably armed with teeth to bite anyone who comes into conflict with the electoral guidelines.
But when it comes to the violence that has characterised Zambian elections in recent times, the ECZ has lamentably failed to flex its muscle and stump its authority against perpetrators if the vice.
To the contrary, the commission has done everything to justify claims from some quarters of society that it has become an undercover extension of the PF secretariat, in existence merely to champion the PF party agenda.
And who wouldn’t believe the claims when evidence to that effect abounds? Was it not during an ECZ conducted election that an NDC member by the name of Obet Kasongo had his head hacked by some known people, with the commission not doing a thing about it?
Another example of a case that ECZ failed to inspire confidence in many Zambians that it is in charge of all election related matters is in the killing of Lawrence Banda in Kaoma. Despite Lawrence being murdered in cold blood by known people, there hasn’t been any measures taken by the commission to rid elections of such crime.
These, among many other inadequacies of ECZ, have led to the waning of the public’s confidence in the commission, so much so that many no longer see the importance of voting in an election conducted by such a questionable institution as the ECZ.
Just when we thought we had seen it all in as far as the ECZ’s promotion of a lopsided political playing field is concerned, the commission has showed how we have not yet seen its last of its unprofessionally questionable conduct. The ECZ announced the need for every voter to register afresh as it was going to do away with the old voters’ register.
As if that was not a recipe for voter apathy enough, the sheer time it has been taking one to obtain a new voter’s card is a huge deterrent that will lead to further apathy, as the economic situation does not allow one to spend that kind of time trying to obtain a document that does not put food on their table.
When all is said and done, it is very clear from the foregoing that it is the PF’s resolve to disfranchise masses knowing how they stand to benefit from voter apathy.
But I want to remind them (the PF) that the 2021 elections will be very different, defying all the known and expected trends.
The people of Zambia are no longer the gullible lot who never used to know the direct relationship between their vote and subsequent livelihood. Courtesy of the PF led socioeconomic crisis that we are in because of voting on subjective rather than objective lines, the Zambia voter is no longer the oblivious citizen who will commit electoral suicide by giving their vote to individuals who have brought us this suffering.
May I take this opportunity to inform all those that are planning to sabotage next year’s elections by means of bringing about voter apathy, that it will not work. We are ready for you.
When you hear Zambians encouraging one another to go and register against all odds, just know that they are about to flex their collective muscle using the universal suffrage to sanitise the political leadership of their country.
It therefore goes without saying that whether ECZ only registers a quarter of their target, even in the purported strongholds of the schemers of apathy, the same will be able to do the job of consigning a failed regime to where it belongs: the history books.
It is upon us once more folks! I am talking about the season when democracy resets society to factory settings, when even those that oppress us using the positions that we put them into, are stripped of these titles which most of them don’t even deserve.
For the sake of posterity and indeed our own survival, I urge you dear fellow citizens not only to brave all odds to go and get your voter’s cards, but also to vote with a thoughtful mind in next year’s polls. Let’s not squander the opportunity that democracy grants us every five years to correct any mistakes we could have made in the past, bearing in mind that five years is too long to wait in any form of slavery. The future of this country lies in your vote. Yes we can!