Columnists Features

Zambia’s cherished tradition: Free, fair, peaceful polls

ZAMBIA’S reputation as one of Africa’s strongest democracies has been earned over many years.  It is a well-deserved reputation.
Throughout its 50 years of independence, Zambia has been stable and peaceful and in the past 25 years Zambia has consistently held elections that the international community judged to be peaceful and democratic and to have expressed the will of the Zambian people.
This is a remarkable achievement and one that Zambia has a chance to build on next week when the presidential by-election will be held.
The United States hopes that Zambia will emerge from the tragic loss of President Michael Sata as a strengthened nation, united in its diversity of tribes, languages, and opinions: One Zambia One Nation.
President Obama said in his letter of condolence concerning the late President Sata: “The United States remains committed to our enduring friendship and partnership with Zambia, and strongly supports a peaceful, constitutional transition of power.”
The US Embassy will oversee a robust election observer mission across 10 provinces, accredited by the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
This effort will coincide with an 11 million Kwacha assistance package (US$1.8 million) managed through the US Agency for International Development and implemented with the assistance of Zambian civil society.
These observers will join counterparts from other diplomatic missions to form a wide-reaching team of monitors across thousands of polling stations in all 150 districts.
Just as President Obama assured Zambia of our enduring friendship and support, I assure all Zambians that we at the US Embassy will work to provide that support as we observe the coming election.
However, international assistance and observers are not the real keys to peaceful and constitutional elections – those must be provided by Zambians themselves.  Strong electoral guidance is needed, which Zambia is blessed to have in the form of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, led by Justice Irene Mambilima.
So too is the impartiality of the state. Government resources must not be misused and the police, security services must remain neutral for an election in Zambia, or in any other country for that matter, to be seen by its own citizens and the international community as legitimate.
In that regard, acting president Guy Scott’s actions to ensure official impartiality deserve our respect and commendation.  So too do the efforts of the Zambian military to remain above politics and of the Zambia Police Service to limit political violence and ensure that each voter has a say without fear of intimidation.
Another key is fair and objective media coverage.
This is especially important in a country like Zambia, where there is a substantial state presence in the media. The Zambian people have the right to hear the opinions of all of the candidates competing to represent them.
This is why we regard debates – among all candidates and in a public forum – as so important and why we are helping fund this week’s debates, in which we hope all candidates will participate.
Debates inform the public first-hand of candidates’ platforms, oblige candidates to answer tough questions under pressure, and give a measure of how candidates might perform if elected to office.
We in the US Embassy have confidence in the ability of the Electoral Commission of Zambia to effectively conduct this nationwide election.
And we have confidence in the local monitors who will help ensure its fairness.  Most of all we have confidence in the Zambian people: in their desire for democracy and in their insistence on participating in elections that are free, fair, and peaceful.
We in the US share the Zambian people’s appreciation for fair play.  In that context, may the best candidate – as decided by the Zambian people – win.
The author is the United States of America’s Ambassador to Zambia.

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