THE youth need to be meaningfully engaged in politics and not serve as tools of violence as such behaviour does not inspire public confidence in “our leaders of today and tomorrow”, says Hanna Tetteh.
In message to mark the end of her visit to Zambia, the special representative of the United Nations Secretary General to the African Union and head of the United Nations office to the African Union noted with concern that the youth, particularly political party cadres were typically at the forefront of perpetuating violence.
Tetteh said she had been in Zambia with members of her delegation from the Department of Political and Peace Building Affairs as part of the United Nations’ continued engagement and support to Zambia ahead of the August 2021 general elections.
Tetteh said this visit was not an Observer Mission because the United Nations does not typically observe elections.
She, however, said the UN provides support to its member states through technical assistance and its good offices to help promote a climate for transparent, inclusive, and peaceful elections.
Tetteh said over the years, Zambia had cultivated a reputation for conducting credible and peaceful elections, with hitch-free transitions.
She said it was essential to maintain and further nurture this.
“All citizens, regardless of their status have a role to play in this regard,” she said.
On elections within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tetteh said everyone was aware that Zambia was organising an election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
She noted that the country had put in place measures to guide the conduct of the 2021 election campaigns to guard against a further escalation of the pandemic.
“What is important is that these protocols are applied consistently by the relevant authorities so that all political parties and candidates are given equitable and equal opportunities to campaign despite the challenges posed by the pandemic,” she said.
She said it was important for key institutions with an electoral mandate to undertake their respective functions in a manner that inspires public and stakeholder confidence.
Tetteh said these include the Electoral Commission of Zambia, the Zambia Police Service, the Judiciary, media, political parties, and civil society.
She said this further called for the public in general and the electorate in particular to be informed and educated on how to safely participate in elections.
“In this regard, I am delighted to note that the UN, through its various agencies, has been supporting Zambia to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
On the application of the Public Order Act, Tetteh said stakeholders raised concerns over the application of the Public Order Act.
She said it was critical to ensure the maintenance of law and order to avoid political violence which often characterise elections.
“However, we cannot adequately emphasise that the Public Order Act should be applied fairly across the board, with the sole purpose of securing an environment conducive to the conduct of peaceful, transparent and credible elections,” she said.
“This requires high levels of professionalism and political neutrality to be exercised by all agencies charged with the maintenance of law and order so that all political players are protected, and that violence is prevented. All efforts need to be made to stop violence, including against women, during the 2021 elections in Zambia, and beyond,” she said.
On dialogue and peace messaging, Tetteh said stakeholders raised the issue of limited space for dialogue, which was critical in preventing political violence and promoting peace.
She called on all political players to be open to dialogue and jointly address contentious issues affecting their political participation.
“In addition, during this campaign period, we encourage political actors, in particular those in leadership to convey messages of peace and unity as they have the power to influence public behaviour and have a crucial role to play in ensuring that Zambians do not engage in violence. These actions are important to ensure that Zambia maintains its reputation as a beacon of peace on the continent,” she said.
On inclusive participation in elections, Tetteh said for democracy to flourish, it was important that all special interest groups were given an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
“We note with concern that youth, particularly political party cadres are typically at the forefront of perpetuating violence. Youth need to be meaningfully engaged in politics and not serve as tools of violence as such behaviour does not inspire public confidence in ‘our leaders of today and tomorrow’,” she said.
She further said women and persons with disabilities were not significantly represented as candidates in the political process.
“I, therefore, wish to encourage the youth to be agents of peace and not to be associated with violence. Women in Zambia remain underrepresented in political processes. While women constitute over 50 per cent of the Zambian population and 53 per cent of the current Voters Roll, their participation levels in politics remain extremely low. Ensuring that men and women are equally participating in elections without barriers is at the core of democracy. Political parties must support women candidates, and collectively challenge mindsets that promote negative stereotypes of women leadership,” she said.
“This calls for affirmative action within the parties to adopt more women as candidates at all levels and support them throughout the electoral process. Exclusive dependence on the First-Past-the-Post system in elections will not yield positive results in the short to medium term.”
She said persons living with disabilities were usually left behind in many electoral processes, including on the polling day itself.
Tetteh said there was need by relevant authorities to ensure that polling stations and operations were accessible to wheelchair users and other people with physical disabilities.
She said other challenges include lack of or inadequate information, in appropriate formats, about voting for the visually impaired, all of which hinder persons with disabilities from effectively enjoying their rights.
Tetteh said this was a human rights issue as participation in the electoral process was a right of every eligible citizen.
On access to media, Tetteh said during an election, the voters needed to know the choices of leaders available and their programmes in order to make informed decisions.
She said the mass media, especially the state-owned media, was at the heart of this matter.
“In our different meetings, we were informed that public media is not equitably accessible to all political parties. It is important that media should give equitable opportunities for all Zambians to know about all political players’ manifestos. This is particularly important in view of the suspension on political rallies which makes the media as one of the key alternatives for campaigns,” she said.
On legislative concerns, Tetteh said various stakeholders talked about the need to reform certain provisions in the Constitution.
She said stakeholders highlighted that the 14-day period to hear and dispose of a presidential petition was inadequate.
“Whereas in the long term, there is need to address these legislative concerns, in the immediate term, there is need to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly political parties are fully aware of the processes for legal redress,” she said.
Tetteh wished all Zambians a peaceful, inclusive, and credible election this August.
“As the UN, we will continue engaging the government and people of Zambia to maintain and sustain peace which is essential for attaining the country’s development priorities,” she said.
She held consultations with Vice-President Inonge Wina and various government senior officials, key institutions of democracy, civil society, members of the diplomatic corps, faith based organisations, political parties, and the media who clearly articulated their perspectives on the country’s achievements and challenges ahead of the 2021 elections.