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PF sham conference signals how the general election will be conducted

[By Gibson Kapili

The just ended PF general conference was confounding as it was far below democratic tenets.
The conference was deceptive, misleading and worrying to say the least, especially that this type of behaviour is being exhibited by the ruling party. This conference has demonstrated how PF has lowered democratic standards. If the party in power can ignore its own constitution, the obvious implication is that there is no way it can respect the Republican Constitution.

I am not trying to seek negative information that paints PF general conference in negative light, but I am seriously concerned about the fact that the rules of engagement as prescribed by the party constitution in selecting members of the central committee (MCCs) were ignored in preference to approving a secret list submitted to the National Council by President Edgar Lungu. My understanding was that PF was going to the general conference to elect central committee members and not to be informed about candidates the president has appointed and disappointed.

Elections are about competitiveness and above all accountability and transparency. PF failed to meet these fundamental principles of democracy and we are going into the general election, expecting them to facilitate credible elections. We are joking as citizens.

Judge for yourselves whether PF followed the procedures as prescribed in their party constitution. Where necessary, allow me to make reference to the UPND conference because procedures appear to be similar. Article 64 of the PF constitution says that there shall be an electoral commission which shall lay down the regulations, rules and procedures relating to elections and shall supervise the elections. Did we see this happen in PF? No. President Lungu dissolved the central committee and literally took over the role of electoral commission. When compared with the arch-rival, UPND begun publicising in the media rules and procedures a month before their general conference. And five days before elections they created an electoral commission composed of NGOs who managed the elections.

Article 68 says the general conference shall elect the president and central committee members. It shall be composed of up to 600 delegates from each province. Did this happen? No. For UPND the number of delegates were clear and we could even see them in provinces voting, totalling and announcing results.

Article 57 talks about how elections of MCCs are conducted. 1) says elections of 20 MCCs shall be done at the general conference; 2) Interested candidates submit their names to the president; 3) the president submits the names of interested candidates and other names to the National Council for consideration and approval (take note, it does not say appoint central committee members to be approved by the National Council). 5) Once names are approved each candidate should avail 10 sponsors who are delegates of the conference to returning officer appointed by electoral commission. 6) If they are more than 20 candidates standing, the general conference shall vote and candidates with the highest votes shall be declared duly elected.

Therefore, where did President Lungu get the audacity to appoint 53 delegates out 170 delegates, which is not prescribed in the constitution? Why does my President have the appetite for breaching constitutions? The process was not even transparent. Some candidates started celebrating that they have been appointed as central committee members upon hearing they are on a secret list of the President before it was even brought before the national council and general conference. Some even started quarrelling with police, demanding to be respected and saying, ‘do you know who I am? I have just been appointed as MCC by the President’. Does President Lungu have the mandate to appoint? No. Those who have been left out do not even know the criteria used to leave them out.

Where is the problem? The problem is that PF has idolised President Lungu. He has become a small god, the alpha and omega. Compare those who fought late president Frederick Chiluba’s third term and the crop of leaders we have now. Some of them who fought president Chiluba are also now worshipping President Lungu. They have given up their freedoms for an imaginary sense of protection and an illusion of restored greatness.

Since the time President Lungu took office, I have observed him to be a person who wanted to leave a good legacy, but high self-interest has messed him up. My fear is that he is going into the general election with two personality traits i.e self-interest and vulnerability/fear. Such traits for someone who is in charge of a country, unless moderated, can be destructive. That is why when I look at the events that have taken place so far, both in PF and the nation, I have come to a conclusion that we will not have free and fair elections.

President Lungu is the Head of State. Though power lies with the people, he has so much jurisdictional power that he can influence any government institution without directly directing it to follow his command because of the way he has been idolised. You may find that ECZ will begin to feel they have an obligation to deliver an election to him. For instance, ECZ´s conduct since the beginning of voter registration has raised several questions about its impartiality and ability to act fairly and independently. ECZ has lacked transparency, stakeholder inclusiveness and accountability as required in the constitution.

For, those who are students of elections, know that voter suppression and a lot of errors in the register is part of rigging mechanism. At this stage I am of the opinion that elections have been rigged through disenfranchising of voters. There are three stages remaining to our general election where rigging is done. These are 1) during campaign period where there is violence whether caused by police or cadres, access to media, restricting assemblies; 2) printing of ballot papers where transparency is required as per our Constitution; 3) voting, counting, tallying and announcing of results, very delicate areas capable of raising serious tempers and violence, depending on how ECZ manages this stage. We shall see how ECZ will manage the processes.

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