ENSURING that only eligible candidates are allowed to participate in any election as provided for in Article 52 of the Constitution will be a stern test for the independence of the Judiciary, says Kennedy Limwanya.
The former aide of fourth president Rupiah Banda said this was particularly in view of President Edgar Lungu’s insistence on contesting the August elections “despite being in his second and last term of office”.
In a statement yesterday, Limwanya, who served as Banda’s chief policy analyst for press and public relations, recalled that at the swearing-in ceremony of seven judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and Court of Appeal last week, President Lungu made some “important comments” worth reflecting on as Zambia heads to the August 12 general elections.
He recalled that President Lungu said the Judiciary would play a critical role in view of the forthcoming presidential, parliamentary and council elections.
“The Judiciary’s critical role, he [President Lungu] added, would be because political players will rush to this arm of government to seek various reliefs. He went on to state that the Zambian people, therefore, expected the courts to be fair as they dispensed justice. A very fair presidential statement, if you asked me,” Limwanya said.
“Mr Lungu’s statement came just days after Patriotic Front (PF) Lusaka Province media coordinator Edwin Lifwekelo had threatened that any attempts to block Mr Lungu from contesting the elections ‘will be met with excruciating force too ghastly to contemplate’. It is difficult to understand why a constitutional matter should require the application of ‘excruciating force’ from a ruling party that claims it has an eligible candidate in the race. Lifwekelo added that any attempts to stop Mr Lungu’s candidature could derail the 2016 elections altogether. ‘Whatever the case, President Lungu will be on the ballot’, he emphasized.”
Limwanya said that “incendiary statement” could have easily been dismissed as hallucinations from an overzealous cadre, but five days after President Lungu’s statement urging the Judiciary to exercise fairness, home affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo was in the news “telling off whosoever” that they could go anywhere but the Head of State would be on the ballot.
“‘You can go to court, you can go everywhere, President Edgar Lungu will be on the ballot. And the people of Zambia will vote for him, Kampyongo told PF members at a party function at Pamodzi Hotel on 20 April, 2021,” Limwanya recalled.
Limwanya wondered where all this pressure leaves the Judiciary if the ruling party keeps insisting that its candidate would contest the elections, whatever the case.
“Don’t these statements instill fear in the Judiciary? Take, for instance the outburst that came from the then Lusaka Province PF chairman Paul Moonga on 6 March, 2021. He alleged that the PF was ‘watching desperate manoeuvres’ by the opposition to buy some Constitutional Court judges in order to nullify Mr Lungu’s eligibility. Could it be that Mr Moonga is aware that it is possible for some Constitutional Court judges to be bought? If the PF, as the ruling party, doubt the independence of the Judiciary, what message are they sending to the rest of the country?” he wondered.
Limwanya said the PF’s intimidation of the Judiciary was not new and continued to have the blessings of the top party leadership.
He further recalled that a case in point was the statement President Lungu made in Solwezi on November 2, 2017 warning Constitutional Court judges that if they disqualified him from contesting the 2021 elections, there would be “chaos” in Zambia.
“Here are Mr Lungu’s words in Solwezi: ‘In English, there is a saying; to be forewarned is to be forearmed. We don’t want to plunge this country into chaos because we are trying to imitate what’s happening elsewhere.’ A warning from a prospective candidate to a court that will determine his eligibility! ‘People are saying Zambian courts should be brave and make decisions which are in the interest of the people. But look at what’s happening in Kenya now,’ Mr Lungu added. Is being brave and making decisions that are in the interest of the people not what we expect from the Zambian justice delivery system? In whose interest should court decisions be made? Why make decisions in the interest of one person?” Limwanya asked.
Limwanya further interrogated whether it was possible that threats from the Executive arm of the government or the ruling party would have a bearing on decisions made by judges.