AnalysisDr Mavaza Corner

Lessons for us from the Zambian elections

By Dr. Masimba Mavaza

Democracy was out to test as the world Unites in a rare moment of fear to hide from the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived at a difficult time for democracy, in the midst of a resurgence of authoritarianism around the world.

One observer in the just ended elections in Zambia said: “In spite of the regrettable events that took place towards the announcement of the final results I still contend that the general administration of the Zambian elections was probably streets ahead of most African countries.”

Zambia has taught us that tribalism serves to destroy the party and the nation. Tribalism has been the fundamental organizational unit of our own Midlands for a number of years. Judging from what happened in Zambia the party must question the viability of tribalism in the burgeoning democratic systems of the region. This study weighs in on this debate, focusing specifically on how There are very senior ministers in Midland who practice tribalism to an extend of fabricating charges and trying to arm-twist the police to detain a sitting MP and vice chairman of the party for a case which warrants none such.

These senior ministers who claim to be close to the president believe that the tribal loyalties influence the effectiveness of political parties. The party survived through its people regardless of their tribal origin.

If tribalism is not dealt with in Midlands the party will disintegrate. Tribalism is considered by political science researchers to be the most effective way for the people to impose their will on the government. The senior ministers in Midlands should understand that tribalism is inherently at odds with democracy, and it hinders democratic systems, such as political parties, when tribal loyalties trump national ones.

Zambia scheduled to hold elections and was forced to decide whether to hold them as scheduled or postpone them.  It finally agreed to proceed with the elections where the opposition went on to snatch the throne. In this cases, Zambia grappled with how to administer elections as safely as possible, while addressing the multitude of new issues the pandemic has presented, i.e. how to include the votes of those that are quarantined, how to avoid a spike in cases, how to handle campaigning, how to avoid politics and manipulation of new election processes, how to identify resources to finance additional expenses such as personal protective equipment, sanitizing polling places, and maintaining security, and how to be as transparent and inclusive as possible in decision making. 

Since the pandemic began, 75 countries and territories have postponed elections, more than 95 have held elections as planned, and more than 45 have held elections that were initially postponed.  Important lessons have been learned over the last several months about how to deal with these and other issues so that the integrity of elections might be preserved.

The Zambian general election has been heralded by all and sundry alike to be the most consequential political decision that the Zambia has faced in generations. COVID-19 continues to negatively impact communities at home and abroad. Zambia gave Zimbabwe free lessons in that all Election across the country were working diligently to ensure that this election can run as smoothly and fairly as possible.So the ruling party works overtime in sorting national elections amidst its campaign.

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Technically the ruling party is disadvantaged as its members are working to see a smooth running of the elections.

We have learnt from Zambia that Civility isn’t as removed as it may appear. The initial refusal to accept defeat by Lungu was the climax of lack of preparation. We can not put the guards dow every time should be a campaign mode. Lungu assumed that the previous votes for him were permanent so he went into this election with his neck on the platter.

It is very wrong to assume that there are loyal opposition references the opposing party members from the majority party. This moniker grants opposition party members respect and recognizes that despite policy differences, each party is acting in a manner believed to benefit their constituents. The series featured community and political leaders who held vastly different views than their counterparts.

Oftentimes, these speakers would deliberate on the same issue, sharing opposing views. However, discussions were made free of ad hominem attacks, cheap shots and many of the other unpleasantries we have grown accustomed to when engaged in difficult conversations. In other words, the speakers embodied the principle behind “the loyal opposition.” The leaders and advocates who spoke in the election series exemplified the good within their communities and depict the level of civility needed to reach across the partisan divide

Good leaders share the unique ability to lift others up. Never think that the party is your personal property. One politician
described the ability to lift others up as “leading with love.” By leading with love, we have the power to turn ideas into calls to action, calls to action into movements, and movements into lasting change.

As we enter the polls as voters, it is crucial to consider how each of the candidates is using his or her platform to uplift constituents and inspire the next generation of leaders through their actions. The spirit of division being planted in Midlands by the resident minister and the minister for state security if unchecked will divide the party.

We have learnt that the party must present a United front. One great lesson was that College-aged students are destined to be a part of a generation of great importance.
The youth must reminded that the things you’re a part of, whether that is voting, your professional choices, through your advocacy and activism, all of it is going to add up to some decisions that historians will study.

The party must remind the youth that It can see it in their classmates, teammates, and yes themselves. The enthusiasm to contribute to the common good and to make lasting change through our actions is immeasurable. 

The efforts to address and recognize issues facing our nation during election year exemplify the level of passion and care needed to maintain our democracy. Our next generation of leaders must learn from the triumphs and failures of those that have come before them. Our future leaders must expand on systems of voting to allow the enfranchisement of more Zimbabweans to realize the full power behind our democracy.

Most importantly, we must once again heed the advice of JF Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Zambian Lungu undermined the youth power and took it for granted. He was shown the red card by the youth. ZANU PF must always put the youth on their chest.

The difference between Zimbabwe and Zambia in these elections is that the one who won Zambia’s 2021 general elections is facing two key challenges: reviving the country’s democratic credentials and stimulating the economy. To achieve this, the new administration must have at least four priorities. These are regaining credibility with the international financiers, fighting corruption, curtailing the dominance of the executive branch of government, and ending the reign of terror by political party vigilantes, known as “cadres”.

Zimbabwe has nothing to worry about these developments. ZANU PF has a vibrant youth league which wakes up daily to a new effort to enhance their lives. Unlike Zimbabwe Zambian elections took place in an increasingly contentious environment.
Edgar Lungu, who has been president since 2015 after his predecessor Michael Sata died in office, has shown increasingly autocratic tendencies.

He has been running for a controversial third term that opponents argue was unconstitutional since he already has been elected twice, in the 2015 and 2016 general elections. The Constitutional Court dismissed the claim since Lungu’s first term was only one year but this did not stop the legitimacy issue to do rounds.

Unlike in Zimbabwe where the military was only moved in after elections in Zambia
the military has been deployed on the streets due to excessive pre-election violence that underscores how competitive the election is. Zambia is already in a third stage of regime change and the liberators of Zambia the UNIO has served its purpose and it is indeed obsolete.

The opposition in Zambia did not cry for electoral reforms or ask for sanctions against their mother land. Instead they took peaceful elections fight and strategies.

Following a tactic used by Sata in the 2011 elections, Hichilema mobilised 20,000 election agents from his party to assist a parallel vote tabulation process to help monitor fraud. Such a tabulation is a common methodology based on observing a random sample of polling stations to independently verify election results.

What the Zambian elections exposed is the fact that if the opposition loses there will be violence. The Zambians where preparing for a violent response if the opposition had lost. When Lungu accepted defeat the aftermath of the elections suddenly became peaceful. It is therefore clear that the source of violence in Africa is the opposition.

Zambia had to give in to the opposition and had elections during this pandemic. While the argument was that we must not allow Corona virus to affect democracy but there is a need to protect the people against democracy. By most counts, the election can be considered a model for democracy. In addition to effectively failing in containing the virus early on, the government was cornered into voting despite the soaring figures of COVID infections and deaths. 

Officials communicated extensively about the measures they were taking so that citizens would feel safe about participating.  They made resources available to hold elections safely, and were fortunate that by the time election day arrived, Zambian virus curve had been low for about one month, which also gave citizens confidence about voting, resulting in the highest voter turnout in three decades. 

On the other hand, Malawi government used its majority while it was in the opposition to ram through elections despite the pandemic. Malawi paid heavily as the death rate multiplied and their health system cracked under the mighty force of the CORONA virus. While the elections went relatively well with high turnout, it was a messy and contentious process. 

While the context is different in every country, a number of lessons can be gleaned from the data that has been collected from those elections that have been held since the pandemic began.  First it is critical that there be political consensus around the decisions related to holding elections, including when, where and how to hold them, as well as the measures needed to address pandemic concerns. 

This consensus will need to be reached among entities that may not be accustomed to working together, such as the election commission, the ruling party, and the opposition.  Second, the earlier the planning begins for holding elections the better.  Rushing new measures can not only confuse voters, but also give the appearance of manipulation of the process. 

Zimbabwe is blessed to have POLAD and the rejuvenated MDC T led by the great patriot Mwonzora. So there is no pressure to whatsoever to hold by-elections. Zimbabwe has put the safety of its people ahead of face make ups.

Despite the fact that Zambia had its elections Zimbabwe does not have, the ability to obtain financial resources to meet the safety requirements for holding an election during a pandemic and to provide alternative methods of casting a ballot. If Zimbabwe suggest postal voting the same opposition will be the ones crying foul.

Despite all the noise around by-elections Zimbabwe has carefully considered the timing of a postponed or delayed elections If COVID-19 cases continue rising it will likely affect turnout, while the opposite will likely mean increased turnout. 

While early on during the pandemic, it was legitimate to err on the side of postponing elections, going forward countries should do everything they can to hold elections as scheduled, as enough lessons have been learned to make it possible to conduct elections safely and effectively. 

But this is no cause to rush just to please the opposition. In view of the pandemic Zimbabwe must improve by taking advantage of this crisis to make improvements in election processes, especially with regard to inclusion, but also with regard to improved communication, strengthening political consensus, and better use of resources.

Without being influenced by other countries Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must Review and update norms and laws related to emergency decrees and health and safety restrictions to make sure the transparency and integrity of elections are still protected.
ZEC must take advantage of the research and comparative data that exists related to elections that have been held during the pandemic, and incorporating it into decision making.

As a nation we must Identify those new elements of holding elections during a pandemic that should be maintained after this crisis is over, this will be done to achieve the highest level of inclusion possible, full transparency and communication about election processes, and the use of local election observers.

As a nation Zimbabwe must show the international NGOs that their efforts to support the holding of inclusive, transparent, legitimate, and safe elections during this and future health crises is not needed.
While elections are possible during COVID we have learnt that we need political togetherness.

Now we all can see who habours violence. The MDC A in Zimbabwe will start by threatening war should their candidate lose. They will much to the Election Command centre if there is a delay in conceding. Lungu has shown a different statesmanship. He has all the reasons to much to the electoral commission and demonstrate but he accepted the defeat for the good of Zambia.

There are lessons to learn we must all learn from them.

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