The DP wrangles and our democracy

On Tuesday this week, the nation heard the news of a serious division in the opposition Democratic Party headed by Harry Kalaba. The news was that Kalaba had been expelled by his fellow members for, among other reasons, that he imported Patriotic Front members into the party and lacked financial discipline. In fact, this news was later accompanied by a letter from L M Chambers, lawyers acting for Democratic Party vice-president Judith Kabemba and treasurer Justine Nkonge.

“We act for the aforementioned Justine Nkonge and Judith Kabemba, the founding members of the Democratic Party, thus note our interest. We have also been informed that the said Justine Nkonge and Judith Kabemba are registered office Bearers for the Democratic Party respectively. Our clients have indicated that prior to the 2021 General Elections it was resolved by the founding members of the Democratic Party to sponsor yourself as a Presidential Candidate for the party. Indeed, perusal of the Democratic Party’s documentations lodged with the Registrar of Societies revealed that you are not a registered office bearer for the Democratic Party,” reads the letter dated October 14, 2021. “Further, our clients have relayed to us that they and other founding members have noted, with utter dismay, that you have embarked on activities intended to supplant the Democratic Party with the Patriotic Front (PF). We have been informed that in the recent past you unilaterally dissolved all the structures for the Democratic Party countrywide and replaced them with the Patriotic Front structures. We have also been informed that you took the unilateral decision to appoint one Javis Chabi without consulting the general membership particularly the Executive Committee of the party…Our clients have also indicated lack of financial discipline and accountability on your part in contravention of Articles 23 and 27 of the aforesaid Democratic Party constitution which compels full disclosure of the sources as well as amounts donated to the party. We have also been informed that you clandestinely embarked on a mission to malign Ms Judith Kabemba and have generally ignored the advice of the governing committee of the Democratic Party as a result of which the party suffered defeat even in constituencies it could have won at parliamentary level. On the premises of the aforesaid, we have been instructed to demand, as we now do, that you cease to hold yourself as Party President as you were merely sponsored as a Candidate for purposes of the 2021 General Elections and you are not a registered office bearer for the Democratic Party. We are further instructed to demand that you be restricted from entering the Democratic Party Secretariat henceforth…”

Later the same day, we saw another letter from the party denouncing Kabemba and Nkonge.

“As the leadership of the party we would like to dismiss these assertions with the contempt they deserve. We also sympathise with Ms Kabemba and Mr Nkonge’s sudden lack of focus and direction. We are aware of what is going on and what has led them to take such a destructive path, but for now we shall treat this matter as a strictly family affair unless the duo decide otherwise…” reads the letter signed by deputy chairperson Precious Ntambu. “For the record, Mr Kalaba is the president of the DP and all members and well-wishers are advised not to be alarmed. Mr Kalaba is firmly in charge of the party and even as the party leadership is behind him as their leader who was elected during the national convention that was held in 2020…”

Just when we thought the circus has gone, we are back with one. And the reasons being advanced by Kabemba and Nkonge are similar to what happened at some point with the NDC!

Well, whatever their reasons, warring DP factions should understand that Zambia is a multiparty democracy where every voice counts. We have previously been on a path where the ruling party has undertaken to decimate vibrant opposition parties. In some instances, the government of the day has gone to the extent of deregistering an opposition party, just as PF did to the MMD in 2012.

However, it seems that the UPND government has nothing to do with what is happening in the Democratic Party. These are purely intraparty wrangles caused mainly by selfishness, greed, pomposity and political dullness from the leaders. We have also witnessed squabbles in losing political parties after every general election. We saw this in the MMD in 2011, in the PF after they lost power on August 12, and now the DP.

The twist of things in DP is discouraging especially that this comes after a general election which left our country without an outright alternative (opposition) party!

Historically, we have always had a strong – vibrant – opposition party after general elections.

Following the 1991 elections, Frederick Chiluba and his MMD tried very much to decimate UNIP, which had become the major opposition party. And to make matters worse for our democracy, MMD blocked then UNIP president Dr Kenneth Kaunda from standing in the 1996 elections. They did this by introducing a parentage clause in our Constitution which required a presidential candidate to have been born from Zambian parents. This saw UNIP boycott the elections and that was the end of the party.

In 1998, the UPND was born under the leadership of Anderson Mazoka. It provided stiff competition in the 2001 elections, augmented by the Patriotic Front which was formed just three months before the elections.

In fact, the 2001 elections had 11 presidential candidates competing, including the FDD. And Levy Mwanawasa of the MMD won. To enhance our democracy, both UPND and PF developed themselves from small to large political parties, with PF forming government in 2011 and UPND this year.

Simply put, the trend has been that when an opposition party forms government, citizens begin to look to the remaining ones for an alternative at the next elections. And, certainly, some citizens looked to the DP as one of the alternatives.

Wrangles in this party should therefore not please anyone at all. So far, our opposition parties seem at sixes and sevens, thereby rendering our State a de facto one party.

We don’t want a one-party state in this country.

We know that the 2021 elections have haggard most of the opposition political parties, so much that the ruling UPND seems to be the only bull in the kraal. We wonder where this picture is taking us. Even Harry who dared the media to chronicle his declaration that come August 12 he would emerge victorious is now jaded. On top of being electorally jaundiced, he’s being fought internally!

Winston Churchill once noted that, “Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others their principles for the sake of the party. […] Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.”

And Walter Lippmann would say, “Before you can begin to think about politics at all, you have to abandon the notion that there is a war between good men and bad men.”

For all his weaknesses, Harry is somewhat sober in his commentary on national issues. His take on serious issues, his voice on checks and balances, should not be drowned by this dirty internal wrangle. And internal wrangles for an opposition party soon after elections can be nasty because of their tendency to suck the oxygen away from the movement!

Much as we don’t understand the intricacies surrounding the DP confusion, we shudder to understand where our multipartism is headed to. For all intents and purposes, it seems the UPND has now been afforded pole position on a silver platter. Not that they have pushed for it, but it’s either due to selfishness among the opposition, or sheer lack of tact. Our opposition parties need to wake up.

If they don’t swiftly dust themselves off the electoral defeat, their members will quench the hangover by joining the ruling party.

It will not be surprising to see similar revolts ensuring in the opposition. It is common knowledge that the problems existing in the DP are very common among all our political parties. So, it will not surprise us to hear that members of another party have risen against their leadership due to, for example, dictatorial tendencies and nepotism, among others. We know how most of these leaders fear to be challenged fairly. In fact, most of them stage manage internal challenges in order to look democratic. But, no matter how idle or dormant a volcano can be, a day comes when it erupts. No matter how stubborn a leader might be, members would certainly revolt one day. As the adage goes, “No matter how long it takes a stammering child will say his father’s name.”

But it should not get to such. Our politicians must spare the nation the drama. There’s serious work ahead. Our opposition must man up. Time is of essence.

Plato once said, “Mankind will never see an end of trouble until lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power become lovers of wisdom.”

While Franklin D Roosevelt noted that, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

We desire that our democracy develops and matures faster.

As William Borah observed, “A democracy must remain at home in all matters which affect the nature of her institutions.”

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