These Elections and Us,
Gabriel C Banda
ZAMBIA’S current elections of mayors and councillors in by-elections and new positions give us thoughts on elections, governance systems, and practices. Violence and campaign rallies concern us.
This July, it is pleasing that PF and UPND officials a few days ago sat together to sign pledge about their party members not to be engaged in violence.
At the signing ceremony and other functions later, PF youth chairperson Stephen Kampyongo and UPND’s Deputy National Youth Chairperson, Habeenzu Munji, spoke with sincerity about renouncing political and elections-linked violence from wherever it came.
And Namakau Kabwiku, UPND Chairperson for Women’s Affairs, has given the very deep human aspect of the effects of political violence.
In the background, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, ECZ, has done well in encouraging political parties to meet to condemn a culture of violence in politics and elections.
Violence not only affects combatants, mostly young persons, from the competing parties, but also the participation of voters. As Mama Namakau Kabwiku observed, political violence and elections-linked violence intimidate some members of the public from involvement in political processes and elections.
Many women keep away from violent electoral environments. Sadly, those parties that know this sometimes may cause violence so that some voters keep away and leave the field for political party members.
Violence among political party members contributed to Zambia becoming a One Party state. Inter-party political violence was by large put in check with the coming of the One Party Democracy time.
It is to be hoped that the recent anti-violence stance by the big political parties will stay long term. There is need to make the interactions constant. They must be nourished. Cadres must see that their leaders are constantly meeting to discuss issues of violence and peace. The leaders must often be seen together at public functions.
It is important to consider what factors and entities drive violence in politics. Systems must be designed and implemented to deal with the violence. Codes of conduct must be introduced and enforced in each political party and across parties.
The frontline militants and cadres must realise that many officials of parties use political parties as vehicles. The officials can move from one party to another, even to and from those they previously condemned.
The party officials must also realise that cadres that are sent by leaders to implement violence can later act against you when you have moved from their party. Officials must be considerate and feel for other people’s sons and daughters who may end up being victims of political violence.
And for a long time, many of us have appealed for public places like market places and bus stations to be politically neutral places that are not run by political party cadres. It is pleasing that recently PF and UPND officials have started discussing this and talked about “depoliticising” the places.
Now, besides issues of violence, Zambia’s current mayoral and ward by-elections and elections provide us thoughts on some basics around campaigns and rallies.
Firstly, we note that, at least in our Lusaka city, political parties are very active and very public in their campaigns. However, unlike during the August 2016 combined presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections, this time we find little publicity directed to voters to turn up.
Some voters may be considering the mayoral elections as internal matters of councils and their political party ward councillors. This was the way things were before the new Constitution. But now mayors are to be voted for by everyone, not just councillors.
Our concern is that as it appears the field is being left to the political parties, many among those of us who are ordinary members of the public may not be involved in voting.
Disconnect and apathy towards council elections and local government may develop, thus distancing the general public from public issues that they should be actively involved in. With cadres in dominance, the current appearance is that the mayoral elections belong to political parties and many in public are mere spectators.
It appears that in practice, in the environment of the new Constitution, the mayors are being moved from being civic leaders to being representatives of their political parties that seek to run councils.
The dominance of political cadre campaigns may find many registered voters stay at home and leave the council field to political parties. But local government should involve the active participation of all persons, with or without political parties.
I think that just after Zambia’s independence, local government elections were about residents, not political parties. These residents included even those that were not national citizens but were permanent residents of the town and country.
Presidents and Campaign
Another aspect that concerns us are who is involved in campaigns during mayoral elections. From the re-introduction of the multi-party system in December 1990, some of us have argued that the president of the country should not be involved in campaigning at by-elections.
From the administrations of Frederick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa, and Rupiah Banda, to Michael Sata and now Edgar Lungu, some of us have been concerned about the president appearing on the side of their party at parliamentary by-election rallies.
I believe that the president should be spared the stress of campaigning for their own party or against other parties, the opposition. I believe there should be official rules about the president not campaigning at by-elections.
A president campaigning may drive some citizens away from that president. We believe that party officials should do the campaigns without the president – and preferably without ministers, who are also holding state offices for all.
The president is for all and should not be subjected to taking sides during by-elections of MPs and mayors. A president’s participation in campaigns during by-elections may lead to hostility towards the president.
If the candidate the president publicly supports does not win, it does not go well with the president having campaigned. It becomes some referendum on the president’s rule. If the president’s party candidate takes the seat, voters of other political parties may not be supportive of the president.
The president should after election be always associated with belonging to all, of all backgrounds. A president needs to be for all, whatever party they come from. I believe that a president should not be involved in partisan campaigns during by-elections of MPs and mayors.
There has been high tension over the July 26, 2018 by-elections and elections for new districts. Political party cadres have been very active. Some cities and towns are hot areas.
Election as fulltime and executive mayor in some big cities may provide exposure and ladder to those who are interested in future public positions such as national president.
When there is voter apathy and elections are dominated by political party members, persons of rough character may slip through and be voted in.
The PF-UPND Covenant of July 2018 is some landmark. There should be Zero Tolerance on violence. The members of political parties should not only avoid violent behaviour but end violence altogether.
Party youth groups, sadly, may act as militias, sometimes very aggressive and even violent. Violence is sometimes promoted by officials while at times the militant cadres act on their own interest and lead to dynamics that affect the wider political environment.
Sometimes officials lose command of cadres, with some cadres acting as freelancers in the scheme of violence.
Party officials must actively discourage and dismantle cultures of violence within their parties. Officials must make sure violent cadres in their own party are firmly dealt with.
The factors, instruments, and drivers that enable and nourish violence should be identified and defused.
Many times there are strong grudges against other cadres – for something that is happening now or happened before – and these must be healed. We must also recognise that some cadres seek gains such as those advantages that accrue with controlling public spaces like bus stations and market places.
Discipline and obedience are important in running big groupings. Groups should have fairness for their members and other persons. They should follow a discipline based on core human values of respect and dignity for all.
Basic human rights must be respected by all – within the party and in behaving towards other parties.
Attitudes and practices of violence must be unlearnt. Cultures of tolerance and peace-building must be activated and consistently practised.
And after the election results, those who are declared winners must not humiliate those who have not won seats. Victors should not mock, laugh at, down-sing, and otherwise humiliate those candidates and parties not declared winners.
Nourished should be systems, structures, and practices that help a non-violent political and elections environment.
So, the current mayoral and local government elections will contribute towards what will be dominant future practices. As have PF and UPND officials recently done in their covenant of July 2018, it is important to continue to practically act against political violence.
It is also important to consider issues around campaigns, including the effect of a president participating for their party in public election campaign rallies.
Besides wide publicity to encourage voter turnout, we also would be interested in ECZ thinking about the election day timing. The July 26, 2018 polls date has now been made public holiday. It may be helpful for ECZ to be selecting dates that may be on weekends.
Of course, there may be many factors involved and the date setting may be quite complex, but the date must be closely considered. There are times it might even be possible to think of election hours been longer than closing at 18.00 Hrs. And then, another complex situation, we may need to think about government pronouncing holidays only in those places doing elections.
It is necessary to adjust some rules and practices if things are to be harmonious in future mayoral and local government elections and administrations. The building and nourishing of non-violence should be continuous, beyond particular election times.
GCB, June-July 2018, LUSAKA
Based in Lusaka, the author is involved in the writing and the arts, social development, and observation of conflict and peace issues.