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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A congratulatory note to Zambians (Guest Blog - HK)

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.

Henry Kyambalesa (Guest Blogger)
Agenda for Change


  1. HK,

    I agree with that voter apathy and a low turnout are perhaps the most troubling issues to arise from the election. However, I do not follow how some of the factors you list contribute to the problem.

    The failure / mismanagement / selfishness / corruption by the ruling party would surely motivate people to vote in order to oust them. Similarly, I would think that “unprecedented socio-economic problems” would lead to people’s engagement with the political solutions offered and those that espouse them. And unequal sharing of resources between parties is more likely to lead to a different voting pattern – more votes for those with resources – than low turnout.

    Voters become apathetic when they believe their vote will not make difference to their lives. This may be because they have no faith in the election process (fearing their vote will not be counted), no faith in the candidates on offer (believing they will all be as bad as each other), or no faith in the power of the government (believing donors and investors make the real decisions).

    You have already highlighted the importance of people’s confidence in the process. Despite the evidence from monitors that the election was actually very transparent, the public perception has been very different. Past failings will have contributed to this. Sata’s very public sharing from the beginning of the campaign of his lack of faith in the process will have done considerable damage as well.

    The political party hopping you described surely erodes people’s faith in the parties and their candidates. How different can they be when they were all bedfellows not so long ago? So why bother choosing between them?

    Cho has already reflected on the whether Zambia is truly independent. If people perceive that it is not, that it’s leaders do not really have the ability to address the country’s problems, then people are entitled to conclude it is better to stay at home than queue in the hot sun and vote.

    Regarding the fixed election date suggestion, how would this have helped in the recent situation? What would happen if a president was incapacitated or impeached in October? To work, an elected vice president is required – the dual ticket system, as in the US.

  2. Dominic,

    The expectation and assumption that the ruling party -- with its poor record of not meeting the needs and expectations of the people, and its leaders' demonstrated selfishness -- would still win the presidential race through corruption and the use of its massive resources regardless of whether or not one cast a vote against its candidate is perhaps at the center of the recent voter apathy.

    With respect to the suggested fixed election date, please read my contribution entitled "Term of Office for the Next Republican President," which appeared on this blog on October 25, 2008.

  3. I have link to your blog


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