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Restore political rights to canvas support, mobilise

Harry Kalaba is uninspired that the operating space for politicians in the opposition is everyday becoming smaller and smaller.

“I was at Mpika FM and the police had to surround the radio station because we did not get a permit from them (police) for being on a community radio station. This is a multiparty democracy country and it can never be left to only one person to be going round. You don’t tie your friend’s hand and then you invite them in the ring to fight,” says Kalaba. “Those in the PF government must leave their opponents loose and let’s see who is stronger. It’s high time that they allowed the political space to be even. Let the Zambian people choose who the best person for the job should be.”

In politics, a level playing field is a concept about fairness, not that each player has an equal chance to win elections, but that they all play by the same set of rules. In a game played on a playing field, such as soccer or football, one team would have an unfair advantage if the field had a slope. Since some real-life playing fields do in fact have slopes, it is customary for teams to swap ends of the playing field at half time.

A metaphorical playing field is said to be level if no external interference affects the ability of the players to compete fairly. If the rules affect different political parties and candidates differently, then there’s no level playing field.

Even in trade, notwithstanding the presence of multinational corporations, there are global rules for fairness. Competition in the global market needs to be fair.

The OECD states that, “Making trade work for all implies that we also address concerns around the world that competition in the global economy is not ‘fair’, that it is distorted by market barriers and government actions that favour companies and products that are not necessarily the best. A level playing field in global trade means that all countries and firms compete on an equal footing to offer consumers everywhere the widest possible choice and the best value for money… Where fairness is questioned, the sustainability of open global trade and investment is at risk. Whether it is rules that ensure that private and state-owned firms compete on the same terms, or that countries are not able to subsidise their own firms or farms at the expense of others, governments have an important role to play in negotiating disciplines that level the playing field in global trade and investment. Much more also needs to be done to ensure that everyone, from companies to countries, plays by the agreed rules.”

And according to Journal of Democracy, “An uneven playing field is a central, yet underappreciated, component of contemporary authoritarianism. In many regimes, democratic competition is undermined less by fraud or repression than by unequal access to resources, media, and state institutions. When opposition are denied access to finance and mass media, their ability to compete in elections – and survive between elections – is often impaired. Where the playing field is skewed, the weakening, collapse, and/or cooptation of resource-starved parties may effectively depopulate the opposition, even in the absence of large-scale repression. A skewed playing field may thus allow autocrats to maintain power without resorting to the kind of fraud or repression that can undermine their international standing, allowing them, in effect, to have their cake and eat it too”.

This is what is obtaining in Zambia today – a country with a skewed playing field.

The political platform is for Edgar Lungu, by Edgar, and for his followers.

Can this attitude continue unabated as the country heads for polls in August? If not what climate are we creating before and after the elections? Free the space, level the playing field. Enable citizens make informed decisions – choices. Restore the rights of all political players to canvas support, mobilise ahead of the Presidential and General Elections. This is a multiparty Zambia and not a one-party participatory ‘democracy’.

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