The Post Newspapers Zambia
By The Post on Friday 07 January 2011, 04:00:00 CAT (5455 Reads)
IF electoral violence is to be curbed, the primary requisite is to eradicate the cause of animosity, conflict, dissension and violence among our political parties, their members, cadres and supporters.
The calls for peaceful elections, and politics in general, should not remain mere words; they have to be visible in concrete actions where those in government and in the ruling party have to show the way.
And in this regard, Tilyenji Kaunda, the president of opposition UNIP, has a point when he says: "If people are cheated out of victory in an election, they get violent…all this points to those in authority who are not putting things in order. So, the MMD leadership should not blame those expressing concern over violence, but blame themselves for not acting accordingly."
If this is so, then the only potent cure of electoral violence is the holding of truly free and fair elections.
The principal mechanism for translating our desire for peace during and after elections is the holding of free and fair elections. Simply permitting the opposition access to the ballot is not enough.
Elections in which the opposition has its rallies harassed or its activities not being fairly covered by the state-owned and government-controlled news media organisations; elections in which state-owned news media organisations have been turned into mouthpieces for the ruling party to the exclusion of the opposition cannot be said to be free and fair or to promote peace.
The ruling party may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, but the rules and conduct of the election contest must be fair for peace to be guaranteed.
If this is not so, the elections will not be able to produce results that those in the opposition and their supporters will accept as being accurate and a true reflection of the will of the people. Peace can only be guaranteed if we are able to hold elections whose results the losers accept as reflecting the true judgement of the voters.
The unwarranted use of vast public resources, including the state-owned media, by the ruling party for its own benefit to the exclusion of rival political parties is tantamount to corruption.
This tendency is increasing in magnitude and so eroding the democratic processes of political development in Zambia. The MMD's victories in all the elections held after 1991 are marred by these abuses, as well as by the use of violence against political opponents.
The top MMD leadership has not attempted to discipline some of their members and cadres who have resorted to violence against the opposition. In fact, they have pledged the party's support for their violent members and cadres.
The implications for democracy of all this violence and abuse can be summed up by pointing out that the normal democratic processes are likely to be constrained considerably if the violence and abuses of last year are anything to go by.
Political intolerance is fast growing, and efforts at instituting for tyrannical rule are evident in various forms.
Another worrying thing is the state machinery's open support for the ruling MMD.
The police, the Drug Enforcement Commission, the Anti Corruption Commission, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General's chambers, and all other law enforcement agencies, including our courts of law, all appear to be on the side of the MMD and its leaders.
This is not a recipe for peaceful, free and fair elections.
We cannot have peaceful elections under such a political environment because peace is the fruit of that right ordering of things in a manner that is fair and just.
It is therefore very important to maintain and strengthen our democratic and electoral structures if we are to witness peaceful politics.
And for this reason, we should value the democratic system in as much as it ensures the participation of all our people in making political choices and in guaranteeing them the possibility of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means during elections.
As Tilyenji has correctly observed, there's bound to be violence if people feel cheated out of victory in an election. Peace is the fruit of honesty and truth in the way we conduct the affairs, political or otherwise, of our country.
And since the peace we are all talking about, we are all yearning for depends on the way we conduct our politics and our elections, there's need for us to do things the right way even if it calls for maximum effort.
There will not be peace in our country if we continue to hold elections whose results are always hotly disputed because the process is not seen to be free and fair.
Free, fair and constructive elections will only become a reality when our politicians, especially those in government and in the ruling party, take their responsibilities seriously.
Our politicians would make a positive contribution to peaceful, fair and free elections if they addressed themselves to the real issues, to their manifestos, so that voters could judge what ideas the parties and their leaders had on problems that really matter: cost of living, unemployment, corruption, poor services in education, health, government and also on the constitution reviews or amendments they intend to make.
They would also do so by rejecting violence in the strongest terms.
They should respect truth and their political opponents.
They should learn to be tolerant with people who have different political opinions. In this connection, we deplore the fact that violence is still going on at an alarming level despite growing public opposition to political violence.
There can be no talk of free and fair elections whilst the present situation of violence and abuses persists; and we join other citizens of goodwill in challenging the government and the ruling MMD to rectify this threat to our future, immediately and with all its moral and physical powers.
There's need also for all our political parties to educate their members, cadres and followers to be tolerant.
It is only in that way that, after the elections, Zambia will remain stable, united and peaceful.
Let us set an example in this year's elections that will win us the respect of the whole world.
Let everyone involved have in their hearts the desire that all will benefit and not just the leaders, members, cadres and supporters of the political party that wins this year's elections.
And as we have stated before, and we will continue to do so, for us to have peaceful, free and fair elections this year, certain conditions have to prevail in our country and in our hearts.
There ought to be conducive atmosphere. The major players have to agree on the conditions under which this year's elections would be held.
The contestants have to conduct themselves in a manner that does not put others at an unfair disadvantage. There ought to be transparency in the organisation of this year's elections.
We also need to ensure that political parties keep to pertinent issues, for example, service to the poor, social welfare, agricultural issues or economic recovery, issues of corruption and good governance, during their campaigns.
Those who campaign outside these issues - politicians only interested in lies, calumny, deceit, manipulation, mudslinging their opponents - are not promoting peaceful elections and should not be voted for.
We should continue to demand that all political parties publicly denounce violence of any sort.
And constructive dialogue should be encouraged at all times on key electoral issues, such as the Constitution, the electoral Act, and voter registration.
All parties should have equal access to the state-owned media, and the state-owned media have a duty to report political campaigns fairly and accurately.
Only in this way can we reasonably harbour any hope of avoiding violence and of holding peaceful, free and fair elections this year.