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Our Democracy Is Working!

Last updated on December 8, 2011

I wish to congratulate Comrade Michael C. Sata for his successful bid for the Republican President of our beloved country, and to commend Comrades Rupiah Banda, Elias Chipimo, Hakainde Hichilema, Tilyenji Kaunda, Ng’andu Magande, Charles Milupi, Godfrey Miyanda, Frederick Mtesa, and Edith Nawakwi for their express desire and willingness to serve the people as Zambia’s Head of State and Government.

 

I also wish to commend the Zambian people for exercising their constitutional right to get actively involved in the electoral process. You have done it again, with relatively few incidents of violence! Bravo!

 

Thus far, it seems our democracy is actually working well!

 

As I have maintained before, we should not expect to attain any mean­ing­ful socio-economic development in the absence of a viable and demo­crat­ic system of govern­ment. According to the con­clusions of a study conducted by the Global Coalition on Africa (GCA) on the political transformation of several African coun­tries, the creation of such a system re­quires the following:

 

1) Genuine and full partici­pation of the various segments of society in making decisions concerning political issues and matters that are of national importance;

 

2) Serious consideration of ethnic interests in the distri­bution of power, educational facilities, health services, and so forth;

 

3) Acceptance and tolerance of interest groups as impor­tant constitu­ents of a functioning pluralistic society;

 

4) Existence of political parties which have a sound and long-term national agen­da, rather than parties which exist primarily to pursue partisan interests and/or the politi­cal survival of their incumbent leaders;

 

5) Maintaining a viable parliament and having regard for it both as a body of peop­le’s elected representatives and as the supreme legislative organ of government;[1] and

 

6) A military establishment graced with, and run by, a cadre of men and women who are adjudged to be patriotic, apolitical, well-disci­plined, and professional in charac­ter.[2]

 

Moreover, there is a need for our beloved country’s new ruling political party, opposition parties and interest groups to recognize the necessity of creating a govern­ment that is commit­ted to honor the principles of account­abili­ty, transpar­en­cy, rule of law, a free press, and genuine citizen participation in gover­nmental decision making.

 

With respect to a free press, there is a need for us to implore our leaders to put an end to the current situation whereby large segments of the mass media which are operated at the national level are state-owned, under tight controls by the government of the day, and the virtues of individuals’ rights and freedoms are subordinate to those of the ruling party and the state.[4] It does not augur well for the development of our nascent democracy to continue to have large segments of the mass media which operate as tools of the ruling political party and its leaders.

 

Essentially, the fundamental functions of the mass media in a democratic society should include the following:[5]

 

1) To serve as a watchdog to the three organs of the government – that is, the judiciary, the legislature and the executive;

 

2) To inform the public about issues that are of national interest;

 

3) To serve as a medium of communication that guarantees free and open debate and discussion among members of society;

 

4) To influence public opinion through impartial, balanced and fair analysis of issues that are of national interest;

 

5) To serve the economic system through sponsored advertisements designed to bring buyers and sellers into contact with each other; and

 

6) To serve as a medium for entertaining the public through: (i) comics, humor columns, crossword puzzles, sports coverage, and other forms of entertainment provided by the print media; (ii) movies, comedy, music, sports commentaries, and other forms of entertainment provided through television; (iii) music, comedy, sports commentaries, and other forms of entertainment provided through radio programming; and (iv) video games, music, sports coverage, and other forms of entertainment provided through the Internet.

 

In all, we should continue to create a political system that adequately provides for free, fair, transparent, peaceful, and competitive elections — a system that will continue to make it possible for us to peacefully remove incompetent leaders.

 

We should, for example, ensure that the appointments of directors or chairpersons to run such institutions as the Electoral Commission of Zambia are preferably made by independent commissions without the involvement of the Executive branch of the government in order for them to operate without the manipulation and/or influences of political actors.

 

Also, we should seriously consider the prospect of establishing an “Electoral Complaints Authority of Zambia,” which should assume the functions of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) stipulated in Clauses 6 through 8 of Article 112 of the 2010 Draft Constitution. These functions could be designated as a separate Article, and could be amended and paraphrased as follows:

 

(1) The “Electoral Complaints Authority of Zambia” shall consider and determine all issues and matters of malpractices relating to the ECZ and/or its officers occurring before, during and after elections or referenda.

 

(2) It shall also determine all electoral disputes and issues of malpractices, occurring before or during an election, within twenty-four hours of receiving a complaint with regard to the dispute or malpractice and shall have the discretion to make an order –

 

(a) Prohibiting a person or political party from doing any act proscribed by or under an Act of Parliament;

 

(b) Excluding a person or any agent of a person or any candidate or agent of a political party from entering a polling station;

 

(c) Reducing or increasing the number of votes cast in favor of a candidate after a recount;

 

(d) Disqualifying the candidature of any person;

 

(e) That the votes cast at a particular polling station do not tally in whole or in part;

 

(f) For filing a complaint and making a report to a court or tribunal handling any electoral petition; or

 

(g) Cancelling an election or election result and calling a fresh election, where the electoral mal-practice is of a nature that would affect the final electoral results.

 

(3) A decision of the “Electoral Complaints Authority of Zambia” on any matter referred to in Clause (2) shall be final only for purposes of proceeding with the elections.

 

(4) Any complaints connected to an election that shall be raised after an election shall be dealt with under an election petition by an electoral tribunal.

 

We can now have some sleep for our beloved country after having engaged in tenuous and highly competitive political campaigns!

 

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1. In this respect, it is essential for a country’s president to appoint Cabinet ministers who are not elected Members of Parliament in order to provide for greater independence of both Parliament and the Cabinet—that is, the legislative and executive organs of govern­ment. Besides, such a move can provide the president with a larger pool of competent people from which he or she can constitute a Cabinet, afford presidential aspirants enough time to identify potential ministerial appointees well before elections rather than waiting for parliamentary elections to be concluded, as well as reduce the work overload on government officials who have to handle both ministerial and parliamentary functions.

2. Adapted from Fisher-Thompson, J., “Ambassador [Herman] Cohen Gives His Recipe for Democracy in Africa,” Washington Line, http://­www.z­amnet.zm/z­am­net/us­is/, April 19, 1996.

3. Mulemba, Humphrey, quoted in Kyambalesa, H., Quotations of Zambian Origin, Revised Edition (Lusaka, Zambia: Apple Books, 1996), p. 9.

4. Ochilo, Omolo J., “Press Freedom and the Role of the Media in Kenya,” Africa Media Review, Volume 7/Number 3, 1993.

5. For a discussion of some of these functions, see Auletta, Ken, “The Press’s Role As a Watchdog on Government,” Frontline, http://www.pbs.org/, February 18, 2009; and WikiAnswers, “What Are the Functions of the Press?” http://wiki.answers.com/, March 8, 2009.

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