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50 years of Zambia’s democracy

KALUWE HANZUKI, Lusaka
DEMOCRACY is defined as a system of governance where the people choose their own political leaders through an election.
It is more than allowing people to freely choose their political leaders and the existence of many political parties opposing the one in power. This, however, is not to say that elections and democracy are mutually exclusive.
In a broader sense, a consolidated democratic state is one where, according to the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), six key determinants exist. These are: electoral system, electoral administration, political parties, conflict and elections, democratic assistance as well as gender and elections.
This article will therefore observe and discuss the existence of these determinants in order to prove whether Zambia is a mature democracy or not.
Historically, Zambia is one country that has been consistent in holding elections, which are a huge factor that leads to a mature democracy.
For instance, the country has held 12 presidential and general elections since it attained political independence from Britain 50 years ago. In these 50 years, Zambia has been ruled by five presidents representing three political parties.
The parties include UNIP, MMD and the PF.
First President Kenneth Kaunda led Zambia under UNIP from 1964 to 1991 when he lost an election to Frederick Chiluba, who was from the MMD.
After 20 years of being in power, the MMD fell out of favour with the Zambian people who decided to usher the PF into governing the affairs of the country in 2011.
During all these three change-of-power events, political transition has been peaceful. This to some extent has won Zambia some international accolades for being an oasis of peace and a democratic country.
At independence in 1964, Zambia was a multiparty democracy with three political parties winning seats in an election that formed the first post-independence national assembly.
Dr. Kaunda’s UNIP won comfortably with 55 out of the 65 main roll seats while the opposition African National Congress (ANC) took the remaining 10 seats.
Just like today, these three political parties had strongholds in certain regions of Zambia except for the ruling UNIP that had a nationwide following although it was not supported in all areas of the country.
The ANC was supported in Western and Southern Province and the United Federal Party (UFP), which later became the United Progressive Party (UPP), drew more support among Bemba speakers in the Copperbelt and Northern provinces.
Perhaps this was so because the leader of ANC, Harry Nkumbula, was from Southern Province while Simon Kapwepwe of UPP was from the northern part of Zambia.
However, eight years after independence, Zambia became a one party participatory democracy, a move which may be perceived as aimed at muzzling multiparty democracy since all other political parties were banned.
Members of political parties that were banned had no choice but to join UNIP even though their ideologies did not march with those of the ruling party.
According to the sixth EISA research report, the main reason for introducing a one party state was to deal with sectionalism which was growing at that time. This sectionalism was said to be based on tribal and ethnic divisions in the country.
Unfortunately for Dr Kaunda and his government, it was during the same period, 1972-1973, when Zambia’s economic stance was shaken following the plummeting of copper prices.
This, according to the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) publication of 1994, left Zambia with little income to cover the budget and to expand and maintain infrastructure development embarked on after independence.
As though the fall in copper prices was not enough for the young democracy, Zambia, oil prices rose by over 100 percent in 1973 thereby souring the country’s import bill.
Perhaps this was the beginning of the decline for Zambia’s economy, which was very strong at independence and a few years after.
Noticing this economic problem, the Kaunda government introduced new policy guidelines in 1977 but the economy kept declining.
According to the SAP publication, in the 1980s the local currency, Kwacha, suffered more devaluation and by 1985, it became inevitable to make major adjustments in the exchange rate and macro-economic measures. A weekly currency auctioning system was started with the first being on October 11, 1985.
However, this saw the Kwacha devaluing by 100 percent, thereby doubling the prices of most commodities, beginning with that of fuel.
The following year, food riots broke out because of the shortage of basic consumer commodities. Many negative economic events continued to happen in quick successions thereafter.
As is always the case, when the economy of a country becomes weak, democracy is equally threatened.
For 17 years, Zambia was a one party state which Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) executive director McDonald Chipenzi describes as an era that reversed the democratisation process of Zambia.
Mr Chipenzi says although Parliament was strong at that time, its decisions were overridden by resolutions of UNIP, which was the only party in the country.
During this one party state era, Dr Kaunda had no one to challenge him in an election and therefore eligible Zambians were forced to vote for him even when they were not satisfied with the UNIP rule.
Democracy had indeed been muzzled because people had no choice of who would politically lead Zambia and stir the country’s economy to better levels.
Because of political and economic pressure, the UNIP government was forced to repeal Article IV of the constitution to reintroduce multi-partism in Zambia.
“I am glad therefore to take this opportunity to say now; those who want to form their small parties are most welcome provided they know that we want peace in Zambia. Peace, stability, unity and development. This fellow [himself] is signing on behalf of eight and half million Zambians. Date of ascent is 17 December, 1990,” Dr. Kaunda said as he signed to repeal Article IV of the constitution.
The coming of multi-partism in 1990 was a huge sigh of relief to many Zambians.
The MMD, led by former trade unionist Frederick Chiluba became famous among Zambians because it was deemed as a political and economic saviour of the country then.
The MMD won the 1991 presidential and general elections held on October 31 by 76 percent, taking 125 out of 150 seats in the National Assembly and relegating UNIP, which had ruled Zambia for 27 years, to an opposition political party.
There was a smooth transition of political power from Dr Kaunda to Dr Chiluba. Dr. Kaunda’s words at independence, according to the EISA report, were fulfilled.
“We intend to establish a society in which I myself as president of UNIP will not be afraid of my own safety should another man take over……In this coming society, we undertake to see that….elections are going to take place periodically.
“This will safeguard the nation against any selfish interests driving any group of men and women to a position where they might be power-hungry and try to destroy all those who don’t see eye-to-eye with them,” Dr. Kaunda said after his election at independence.
Many political parties were born thereafter in readiness for the 1996 presidential and general elections.
One of the strong opposition political parties was the Zambia Democratic Congress (ZADECO) under the leadership of Dean Mung’omba.
The EISA report indicates that because the MMD had the majority members of Parliament, Dr. Chiluba’s government had power to alter the constitution unilaterally.
The constitution was altered in 1995 for the third time after independence. The change in the constitution required presidential candidates to prove that their parents were born in Zambia.
According to the EISA report, this change was perceived to aim at barring Dr. Kaunda from contesting the 1996 general elections.
The change also stated that a presidential aspirant should have lived in Zambia for a minimum of 20 years. This was believed to be targeting Mr. Mung’omba, the leader of ZADECO.
FODEP perceives this as an attempt by the Chiluba government to kill democracy by reducing the level of competition despite being a leader of the MMD which preached multi-partism from its inception.
Opposition political parties, civil society organisations, political analysts and the international community noted the unfairness of the election and the electoral process.
Mr. Mung’omba, however, contested the election and scored 144, 366 votes while Dr. Chiluba garnered 835,537 votes and was consequently declared President of Zambia for the second and last term of office.
Many more political parties emerged between 1996 and 2001 when another general election was held.
The UPND, led by businessman and former Anglo-American general manager Anderson Mazoka became the strongest opposition political party in the 2001 presidential and general elections.
Levy Mwanawasa, who was the first Vice President when the MMD took over power from UNIP in 1991, was the presidential candidate in the 2001 election.
Dr Mwanawasa beat Mr Mazoka by scoring 506,694 votes against the latter’s 472,697 ballots while the FDD, led by the Lieutenant General Christon Tembo (Rtd), was in the third position with 228,861 votes.
Of the total votes cast, these votes represented 28.69 percent for MMD, 26.76 percent for UPND and 12.96 percent for FDD.
During this election, there were 11 presidential candidates from various political parties. UNIP was this time around represented by Tilyenji Kaunda, the son of Dr Kaunda.
After that election, FODEP, the Zambia Independent Monitoring Team and the Commission for Clean Campaigns, which were the main election monitoring groups, argued that the polls were marred with flaws.
The UPND, Heritage Party and the FDD contested the election in the Supreme Court on allegations of malpractices which allegedly helped MMD to win the election. However, the election of MMD was upheld by the highest court of appeal in the country.
In 2006, Dr Mwanawasa won the presidency again but died in office in 2008. This necessitated a presidential by-election which Rupiah Banda, who was Vice President, was elected as President.
The MMD and Mr Banda lost to the PF in the 2011 general elections in which 10 political parties sponsored presidential candidates.
Generally, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, political parties, the media and other groups have from 2001 been freely providing checks and balances to the government of the day.
But complaints of unfair elections have always emerged after polls from losing parties and some election monitors.
The gender balance issue is also being taken care of where many women are now participating in politics while many others are holding key positions in influential institutions.
This therefore can warrant Zambia to qualify to be a democratic country as Anti-Voter Apathy Project (AVAP) executive director Richwell Mulwani observes.
Mr Mulwani notes that democracy has been growing in Zambia from the time the country returned to pluralism in 1991.
He explains that the birth of many political parties, civil society organisations, NGOs, media houses and successive governments’ willingness to listen to the people through these organisations, is a clear indication of a thriving democracy in Zambia.
Mr Mulwani says democracy has since benefited Zambians who are now able to, through the constituency office, present their needs to the MPs and feedback from Government has been noticed.
He adds that parliamentary reforms of radio broadcasts of live debates and the opening of an information communication technology library at the National Assembly allows members of the public to update themselves with the goings-on in the governance system.
AVAP however, wants to see a devolved governance system so that people in rural areas can experience development at the local level.
Mr Mulwani also wants Government to start funding opposition political parties to level the political playing field.
He observes that total democracy cannot be entrenched in Zambia if opposition political parties and their candidates do not have finances to fully participate in elections.
The AVAP leader believes it is lack of funding to political parties that makes MPs from the opposition cross the floor to the ruling party where the political grass looks greener. This has weakened the efficacy of opposition political parties to provide checks and balances.
Mr Mulwani further argues that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) should be given the mandate to decide the fate of politicians and other people abusing the electoral code of conduct.
He says the media should also be given total independence while traditional leaders should not take part in active politics and side with particular politicians especially during elections.
And Mr Chipenzi agrees with AVAP on the need to give ECZ autonomy to handle election matters without any undue influence from the executive.
Mr Chipenzi however argues that while Zambia has made strides in the democratic dispensation, democracy would not be enjoyed in totality if governance institutions such as the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and ECZ, among others, are not independent of Government influence.
He notes that the executive has too much power that influences the legislature, the judiciary and the fourth estate, the media, which are key to the development of democracy in Zambia.
Mr Chipenzi says this influence stems from by and large, the legal system of Zambia where the President is given too much by the constitution.
He points out that the current situation where the President appoints the Inspector General of Police and police commissioners and heads of other law enforcement agencies has rendered them unaccountable to the public.
The FODEP chief argues that voter apathy that has been characterising general and by-elections is an indication that citizens are dissatisfied with the state of democracy in the country.
Mr Chipenzi however cautions about the abuse of democracy by people who use it to insult and malign others.
From the foregoing, the conclusion of the matter is that generally, Zambia has experienced growth in the democratic dispensation although there are still some limitations because of the legal system.                                        ZANIS

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