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Let democracy take centre stage

WITH the election campaign season officially in full swing, we are yet to see all kinds of messages and ways of reaching to the voters. Just like in a market, each party will seek to sell their product(s) in this case, the candidates. Others like those floating themselves as independent candidates will also seek to throw themselves in the mix.
Campaigns add excitement to our social life. They bring out different things. Unfortunately, campaigns also bring out a lot of challenging vices. Elements like violence, character assassination or lies come out or resurface. The question will always be what influences this?
What should be considered when coming up with a campaign plan or material that does not influence this? Is it culture, religion, sex or our society? Do our campaign messages, actions and ways depict our values as a party? These are some of the questions people will be asking as those seeking elective office sell themselves.
I think it is how much work we put in as political players that determines what we achieve at the end of the day. For democracy to have any value, discipline must be seen from everyone. Parties, civil society and the media, among others, should all play their part.
Discipline means putting the people first or putting the truth first. We should long to work hard. This is important because we are defining our political and democratic future.
Political parties should play it clean and show maturity in what or how they conduct their campaigns. Politics of character assassination are long gone. Politics of violence shouldn’t be entertained. Politics where women and youth are not given preference are politics of the past. As I said, we are defining our political and democratic future. We must long to put quality and maturity in our politics.
In this year’s elections, both opposition and ruling party candidates should lead by example. Remember people want to hear what you are going to do and not what the other one cannot do or has not done.
Always remember that spending time attacking your opponent loses you time to put your message across to the voters. It rather advantages your opponent who maybe selling what they will do.
I have talked about political maturity above. Political maturity is not only showing that you can run a good campaign or you can outsmart your opponents in your counter reactions. Political maturity is also admitting that the other team is well organised than you are and, hence, looking at your weakness and challenges you work hard next time.
Spending time talking about the other party or candidates show that you have nothing to say about your plans if elected. I understand that sometimes as a party, we can be outshined by another in the way we organise things or the type of people we attract.
Ranting or downplaying it will not win you votes. Using fake or Photoshopped images on social media will not win you votes or supporters. People will just see the immaturity in you. People will just see bitterness and envy. The only solution is to organise yourselves and do better as I alluded to above.
Those who are in the ruling party should find it within themselves not to abuse national resources. Fairness should be seen as we campaign.
Having said this, I would like to note that institutions like the media and civil society organisations (CSOs), including all those seeking to contribute to the cementing and consolidating of democracy, equally have a big role to play.
In this regard, they have to be careful how they bring themselves out, otherwise they may end up losing credibility. All these organisations have a responsibility. That responsibility should go behold partisan politics.
Media institution, whether public or private, should rekindle their aim or duty to inform, entertain and educate. If there is a time when people need information about what is going on, it is now.
If there was a time that people needed to be educated on a number of issues like the Bill of Rights or referendum, it is now. For me, media is not only about trying to reach as many people as possible. It is all about spreading as much information as possible. Information needed to help build and not destroy or fuel hate, envy or lies.
What is the purpose of reaching millions of people if you cannot give hope, bring out the truth, add value to our democracy or more importantly improve political, social and economic literacy? We should now understand as media houses that people can now distinguish what is propaganda and what is not. What is the truth and what is not.
In the same vain, the social movement should or rather have a very big role to play because they are a very important element of our political process. CSOs are bridge builders between citizens and the political and democratic process. The kind of bridge we build has a bearing on our democracy.
Just like the media, the social movement should not be seen to be compromised or partisan. As a civic education body, your eyes should see beyond the political party. In Government or not, political parties should be treated the same.
One thing I have observed is that most of our CSOs seem to think that only the party in Government should be criticised. As governance promoters, we have a duty to represent the aspirations of the citizens. We should be seen to be criticising objectively. People should see the difference between CSOs and political parties.
We cannot be seen to be siding with certain political parties just because we have friends or because we think our role is only to criticise the party in Government. Similarly, we should not just criticise the opposition just because we have disagreements on certain issues or because the party in government has scratched our backs.
As bridge builders, let us help to build a good bridge which will enhance our democracy. Just as I alluded to on the role of the media, people will understand when you are being used, emotional or personalising things. The line between the role of the social movement and opposition parties may be thin but I think people should come first regardless of their political affiliation.
People should not see political parties in the social movement. My challenge to our civil society leaders is that just like it is with civil servants, if you think your opinions are compromised because you want to take part in politics, for the sake of maturity and morality step aside and pursue politics.
A person who uses a CSO in order to gain political favours is as bad as a leader who takes advantage of their position to steal or enhance themselves.
We only have one Zambia and we only have one nation. Our role in developing it or helping consolidate its democracy and the political process, especially in this year’s elections, should take prominence in our daily lives.
The media and the social movement have to rekindle their roles not only as bridge builders or educators but also as promoters of peace, democracy and justice.
Political parties, ruling or not, should work hard to promote violence free elections and more importantly show voters and citizens in general that they are committed to bringing confidence in our politics. It will be sad after all the progress done in our democracy just to return to the stone age.
The author is a PhD candidate at the International Postgraduate Centre at Goethe University Frankfurt.