Zam­bia’s democ­racy in tat­ters

The un­timely death of one of the coun­try’s most revered pres­i­dents has led to its early death as a bea­con and some­thing far more dra­co­nian, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

SEEM­INGLY un­no­ticed by re­gional and con­ti­nen­tal po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic bod­ies, there is a sus­tained ero­sion of the rule of law, de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of po­lit­i­cal tol­er­ance and rise in hu­man rights abuse play­ing out in Zam­bia.

The south­ern African coun­try, once hailed as a bea­con of peace and democ­racy in Africa, is fast be­com­ing a coun­try in which the me­dia, op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal party lead­ers and any form of dis­sent are sys­tem­at­i­cally per­se­cuted and bru­talised by state po­lice, with no re­course for pro­tec­tion from the ju­di­ciary.

This sad sit­u­a­tion finds its roots shortly af­ter the death of Michael Chilu­fya Sata. The veteran politi­cian had led the Pa­tri­otic Front (PF) to vic­tory against the rul­ing Move­ment for Mul­ti­party Democ­racy, which had lost touch with the peo­ple of Zam­bia.

When Sata died, a messy suc­ces­sion bat­tle en­sued, which saw 11 can­di­dates in the PF jock­ey­ing to suc­ceed the flam­boy­ant Sata.

The then defence min­is­ter, who also dou­bled as min­is­ter of jus­tice and party sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, mus­cled his way to the pres­i­dency of the rul­ing party by en­sur­ing none of his op­po­nents at­tended the con­ven­tion meant to elect the new party pres­i­dent.

Us­ing in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence, he made cer­tain only those del­e­gates sup­port­ing his can­di­dacy at­tended the con­ven­tion. In the end he was elected by “pop­u­lar” ac­claim with­out any vot­ing tak­ing place. This was to be­come the blue­print for use of vi­o­lence and in­tim­i­da­tion in the po­lit­i­cal arena in Zam­bia.

Lungu used his in­flu­ence within the ju­di­ciary to frus­trate any le­gal chal­lenge to his elec­tion. This was the ge­n­e­sis of the col­lapse of ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence in Zam­bia.

In­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence, cou­pled with a com­pro­mised Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of Zam­bia (ECZ) and Zam­bian Con­sti­tu­tional Court, char­ac­terised the pe­riod be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter last Au­gust’s pres­i­den­tial, par­lia­men­tary and lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions.

The pe­riod saw un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence meted out by the rul­ing PF’s thugs (un­touch­able by a com­pro­mised po­lice force), po­lit­i­cal killings, a clam­p­down on op­po­si­tion party campaigning, gag­ging of the pri­vate me­dia, and the use of state in­sti­tu­tions to stem op­po­si­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

Bla­tant ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and dis­re­gard for con­sti­tu­tional pre­scripts marked the elec­tion pe­riod, with the ECZ re­fus­ing and de­lib­er­ately not mak­ing avail­able form G12, an in­te­gral in­stru­ment for en­sur­ing free and fair vote-count­ing and tal­ly­ing. As a re­sult, votes could not be ver­i­fied by po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and the ECZ found it­self caught in pro­nounc­ing in­cor­rect re­sults and of­ten in­flated fig­ures in favour of the rul­ing party.

A pe­ti­tion by Hakainde Hichilema, the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the main op­po­si­tion party, the United Party for Na­tional Devel­op­ment (UPND), and his run­ning mate, Ge­of­frey Bwalya Mwamba, was sub­mit­ted to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, in line with the pro­vi­sions of the con­sti­tu­tion.

The con­sti­tu­tion fur­ther pro­vided that when such a pe­ti­tion is ac­cepted by the court, the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent must hand over power to the Speaker of par­lia­ment, who would then be in charge of the coun­try dur­ing the pe­riod of the pe­ti­tion.

Lungu bla­tantly dis­re­garded this con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion, and the court re­fused to make a rul­ing on the mat­ter when the pe­ti­tion­ers brought it up as a pre­lim­i­nary mat­ter.

The Con­sti­tu­tional Court con­tin­ued to be­have strangely through­out the pe­ti­tion pe­riod, which cul­mi­nated in the court throw­ing out the pe­ti­tion be­cause the 14 days within which the pe­ti­tion had to be heard had elapsed. This was de­spite the court’s own ear­lier rul­ing that the 14 days ex­cluded week­ends, so ef­fec­tively the pe­ti­tion was ter­mi­nated with four days still re­main­ing.

The post-elec­tion era has seen con­tin­ued in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence against the me­dia, the op­po­si­tion lead­er­ship and sup­port­ers and any man­ner of dis­sent.

The UPND, through its leader Hichilema and his run­ning mate Mwamba, like many other Zam­bians, re­fused to recog­nise Lungu as pres­i­dent of Zam­bia, pre­cisely be­cause the elec­tion pe­ti­tion was never heard.

This has not gone down well with Lungu.

It is this re­fusal to recog­nise Lungu un­til such time that the pe­ti­tion is heard, and not the fa­mous traf­fic in­ci­dent that is be­hind the in­car­cer­a­tion of Hichilema and five of his co-ac­cused for trea­son – a non-bail­able of­fence in Zam­bia.

On April 10 this year, more than 500 heav­ily armed po­lice of­fi­cers broke into and fired tear­gas into the res­i­dence of the UPND leader, who has been held in de­ten­tion – and sub­ject to tor­ture and hu­mil­i­a­tion – since April 11.

He was trans­ferred from Lusaka to a max­i­mum prison in Kabwe – al­most 200km away – chained like a dog amid bru­tal beat­ings.

Hichilema is be­ing held in the most de­spi­ca­ble con­di­tions.

A court or­der to have him trans­ferred back to Lusaka has been ig­nored.

More than 2 000 UPND mem­bers are in po­lice de­ten­tion. Po­lice bru­tal­ity con­tin­ues un­abated, with those in power turn­ing a blind eye.

In the af­ter­math of last year’s elec­tions, the world-renown Carter Cen­ter stated it was “deeply con­cerned about key as­pects of Zam­bia’s elec­toral process in both the pre- and post-elec­toral pe­riod, es­pe­cially the fail­ure of Zam­bia’s in­sti­tu­tions to pro­vide a level play­ing field prior to elec­tion day and ad­e­quate due process to en­sure a fair hear­ing and ef­fec­tive rem­edy for elec­toral pe­ti­tions filed fol­low­ing the polls. Un­for­tu­nately, this rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant step back­ward for Zam­bia.”

Sim­i­larly, the EU elec­tion ob­server mis­sion noted in its fi­nal re­port that “the elec­toral cam­paign was marred by sys­tem­atic bias in state me­dia, which failed to pro­vide fair and eq­ui­table cov­er­age of the cam­paigns of all par­ties, and by re­stric­tions on pri­vate me­dia, no­tably The Post news­pa­per.

“The Con­sti­tu­tional Court failed to pro­vide clear, timely and au­thor­i­ta­tive di­rec­tions to par­ties re­gard­ing the time­line for the op­po­si­tion chal­lenge of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion re­sults, which un­der­mined pub­lic con­fi­dence in the elec­tion com­plaints process.”

In the wake of the in­car­cer­a­tion of Hichilema, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment on May 16 reached a res­o­lu­tion on Zam­bia, par­tic­u­larly in re­gard to the case of the op­po­si­tion leader. This was the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant reaction by an in­ter­na­tional body.

Other at­tempts to help steer Zam­bia in the right di­rec­tion in­cluded ef­forts by South Africa’s DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, who was thrown out of Zam­bia when he tried to at­tend Hichilema’s trea­son hear­ing. The Na­tional Union of Met­al­work­ers of SA has nu­mer­ous times high­lighted the atroc­i­ties hap­pen­ing in Zam­bia.

How­ever, there has been deaf­en­ing si­lence from the South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity, the Com­mu­nity for East and South­ern Africa and the AU.

None of them have ut­tered a sin­gle word about the sit­u­a­tion in Zam­bia Clayson Ha­masaka holds a Mas­ter’s in Jour­nal­ism and Me­dia Stud­ies from Rhodes Univer­sity and is a me­dia con­sul­tant and for­mer head of me­dia stud­ies at Eve­lyn Hone Col­lege

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.