You call it a national and presidential election without any televised debates?

What kind of election is this where there are no televised presidential, MP and mayoral candidate debates for accountability, assessment, monitoring and evaluation purposes by the Zambian public?

There were no debates between candidates in the primary stage either. Zambians continue to be cheated in the electoral front to choose the best publicly evaluated candidate, a candidate at each level whom they saw on television or heard on radio debating with fellow candidates and answering tough questions from a panel of selected professionals from all parties and NGOs and from the public in real time.

Zambians, as we have written before, are also cheated on the legal front because there are no televised, video or audio taped judicial proceedings affecting their fundamental rights of seeing and hearing the legal proceedings as to why a President who has held office twice qualifies or does not qualify to stand for a third term. Don’t accuse me of dredging the past; it isn’t the past. The ConCourt promised us that the perfected decisions would be released on June 30th, 2021. They have not been released two weeks later. The deaths of our founding president and first female chief justice cannot be used as excuses because these events occurred well after the promise was made and a summary of the decision had been released. There is also no released decision as to why an application for amicus standing by prominent Zambian constitutional lawyers who offered a most comprehensive helping hand to the judiciary and all parties was not entertained and denied.

Zambians deserve better from their democratic and legal system.

Who benefits from the lack of televised, video or audio taped candidates’ debates and judicial proceedings? Not the Zambian public of course! It is the status quo of power that is benefitting from the lack of transparency, accountability, monitoring and evaluation. For to let Zambians see openly what is happening and the justifications for the outcomes would be to empower Zambians make correct decisions and judgments and the status quo does not want this.

Can you conceive of an election taking place in the modern era in the United States, the UK, Australia, Canada, Kenya, South Africa etc without televised presidential, prime ministerial, MP and mayoral candidate debates? And did you know that refusal to participate would certainly knock you out of the position you want to contend for? Candidates are not in the driver’s seat during the most democratic phase in a democratic country, voters are in charge during the election campaign, the only time voters are really in charge. After the election, the status quo again resumes control until the next election period.

But in Zambia, the status quo never loses control even during the election time. The status quo can even refuse to hold televised debates without consequences, without accountability. In other countries you refuse to participate at your own peril.

In fact, the status quo in Zambia cannot and should not be wholly blamed for the anemic status of Zambian democracy. Opposition parties and civil society can and should organise the impugned debates without reference to the status quo. They could hold debates and interrogate the incumbent status quo of the destruction that has been wrought on the political, economic and legal system of Zambia. That would be campaigning per excellence. The opposition would also in the same breath be putting forward their agendas under questioning, why they think they would do a better job.

Let’s face it, comparative analysis of what is happening in other countries is the best method of evaluating and improving our system and copying and improving the acknowledged best practices. I am not by any means suggesting that whatever is happening in other countries is the best. They have their problems and are not perfect but we can adopt what would work for us to improve our democracy. Televised, video and audio taped debates would be an improvement on our democracy.

Televised judicial proceedings would improve our quest for transparency and accountability, monitoring and evaluation. Televised judicial selection process like that which happens in Kenya and South Africa would improve the calibre of our judiciary or at least we would know who is in charge of the judiciary and their backgrounds. Would anyone claim that knowing the character of your judiciary or president, MP or mayor because of a transparent televised debate or interview, is negative and undesirable? Arranged marriages in traditional society may still work very well but arranged presidents and judges in backrooms and hidden boardrooms are anathema to modern democracy.

Right now there are no public campaigns allowed in Zambia because of the Covid pandemic and for sure other hidden agendas. Presidential debates in a controlled Covid- sensitive arrangement could augment the election campaign. The debates are the best opportunities to see and evaluate the calibre of the candidates and their agendas. The debates can tell you who among the candidates really knows what he or she is talking about; whether or not they are articulate doesn’t really matter. What matters is: do they know their country and its problems and how they are going to get the country out of its problems. They are there on the stage all by themselves debating without relying on prepared speeches and backroom advisors.

Let me give you an aside story about the quality of leaders who know what they are talking about. I once watched Fidel Castro give a speech without reading in Cuba for several hours reeling off one statistic after another, telling Cubans why they are getting this much reduced rations this month because so many tons of this item haven’t arrived and how many tons of this they will get next time and how many tons of mangoes and sugar cane have been harvested etc etc. There was no electoral democracy in Cuba and he was not at a presidential debate but you knew that he knew what he was talking about. You sensed the Cubans were taken care of.

In Zambia we have a record of how things have been progressing from 2011 to the present for presidential debates to really catch fire. Why is the Mulungushi textile factory always in the campaign lexicon and never opened to provide serious employment? What has been the exchange rate between the dollar and the Kwacha since 2011 and before Covid? Did the President condemn Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, Nkandu Luo, Kebby Mbewe, Chishimba Kambwili etc for their tribal remarks? What happened to the Saudi oil deal? Who is building all these gas/petrol stations across Zambia in the midst of the oil crunch and lack of medicines, school classrooms etc? What has been the price of bread, mealie meal, cooking oil, transport, electricity, rice etc since 2011? Why has violence escalated since 2011? How has the public order Act been implemented? Does he know he is a judicial President because legally he is not qualified for a third term? Why did he not hand over power to the Speaker during the presidential petition in 2016? Why was he not declared President? Why was he not sworn in by the chief justice or her deputy? Why have the reports of the Auditor General and Financial Intelligence Centre not been acted on? Why has he not condemned corruption robustly? Where has he and his family gotten the sudden wealth that Kambwili, Kalaba and others have accused him of amassing? What is the debt of Zambia? How much are we indebted to the Chinese? Is it true that the claimed infrastructural development cost more than necessary and where did the balance go? Why have people of Southern and Western Provinces been terminated from public service and or left out in the appointment bonanza? Why are PF rallies not attacked by anybody but opposition rallies are bloodied by the police and state cadres? Why are PF posters intact while mainly opposition alliance posters are ripped off? Does he believe in the One Zambia One Nation mantra? Can he describe the current state of the rule of law or non-rule of law? Has he boosted youth employment or done nothing? What is his net worth compared to 2011?

And so, on talking points at the debate, the incumbent is always on the hot seat because there is a record to defend and qualify. The onus is on the incumbent. The burden of proof is in the incumbent; the burden never shifts. The main opposition could be questioned about privatisation, tribalism, manifesto, agenda, and how things could be done differently.

The opposition from the incumbent about the debate is that it is not in the Constitution. But has the incumbent complied with the requirements of the Constitution when it really mattered? He never handed in power to the Speaker, he borrowed money without authorisation from National Assembly, he was never sworn in by the chief justice or the deputy; he will be holding office for a third time if elected etc. So what Constitution is the incumbent talking about in relation to presidential debates when some provisions of the Constitution are willy- nilly violated? A presidential debate would answer all these and other questions. Zambian democracy is short-changed and Zambians are cheated on the political and legal fronts. We fought so hard for this democracy. Let’s rededicate ourselves to resuscitating and nurturing it, by any means necessary.

Dr Hamalengwa is the author of the book ‘Thoughts Are Free’.

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