The peaceful atmosphere in Zambia during the recent presidential by-election is a source of great exhilaration. Again, we have portrayed our wisdom, maturity and desire to strengthen our nascent multi-party system. Congratulations!
In the aftermath of the by-election, we need to be mindful of the fact that elections are not an end in themselves; they are essentially intended to afford us the opportunity we deserve as citizens of a sovereign country to choose those amongst us who are adjudged to be both competent and willing to lead us in our quest for a more democratic, more peaceful, more affluent, more egalitarian, and more environmentally sustainable society
My fellow Zambians, President Rupiah Banda’s commitment to poverty reduction should be judged by the size of the national government he is going to constitute. If he cannot create fewer Cabinet-level portfolios and abolish the position of District Commissioner, for example, it is not going to be possible for his administration to provide adequately for the basic needs of education, public health, agriculture, and so forth.
A comment on the rampant voter apathy during the presidential by-election is perhaps in order at this juncture.
One of the obvious causes of voter apathy is failure by the MMD government to address the basic needs and expectations of the people. It would be unrealistic for anyone to expect citizens who are facing unprecedented socio-economic problems to be excited about voting!
The Zambian economy is clearly in desperate need of prudent management. One wonders where MMD leaders derive their pride from when they have apparently failed to address the socio-economic ills which have haunted the country over the last 17 years they have been in power.
For instance, tens of thousands of Grade 7 and Grade 9 students have continued to be spilled onto the streets every year, the healthcare system cannot meet the basic needs of the majority of citizens, the majority of Zambians have no access to clean water and electricity, a critical shortage of decent public housing has compelled so many of our fellow citizens to live in shanty townships nationwide, public infrastructure and services are still deficient, civil servants are still not adequately compensated for their services and the payment of their meagre incomes is often delayed, a lot of civil service retirees cannot get their hard-earned benefits, and, among many other socio-economic ills, crime and unemployment are still widespread.
Another cause of voter apathy is the enormous resources (including government resources) available to the ruling party compared to resources available to opposition political parties. This, as Sarandos Zaloumis has maintained in an article entitled “Causes of Voter Apathy” published in *The Post* newspaper of July 2001, annoys the poor and ill-equipped opposition parties.
An additional cause of apathy is selfishness among government leaders, such as that depicted recently by their attempt to give themselves hefty pay increments at a time when the people are facing unprecedented socio-economic woes.
A fourth cause of apathy among voters is political corruption by the ruling party, such as that involving Mr. Rupiah Banda in the run-up to the recent presidential by-election. Such corruption has, according to Sarandos Zaloumis, contributed to some people hopping from one political party to another like grasshoppers. This has diluted the basic role of the opposition, including the critiquing of government policies, and advocating alternative policies and solutions for addressing issues facing the nation.
Political corruption has also led to the general lack of confidence in the electoral process. It has undermined the potential for the electoral process to provide leaders in accordance with the people’s wishes.
The role of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) in elevating people’s confidence in the electoral process cannot perhaps be overemphasized. The recommendations made by the Mun’gomba Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) about the specific roles which the ECZ should play in this regard should be adopted by the National Constitutional Conference (NCC).
To these recommendations, one would do well to add a specific day or date for holding general elections. This can forever forestall any suspicions occasioned by meetings between the ECZ Director and the incumbent Republican president. The NCC may consider the first Friday in September for general elections. The day or date to be considered should be during the dry season, and should give the new Republican president enough time to prepare for the hosting of Independence Day celebrations in October.
I wish you all God’s unreserved blessings.