Columnists Features

Defining a framework for tackling political violence


ELECTIONS provide means by which competition in society can be channelled into a constructive process with common rules to choose representatives of the people.
Studies have proved that robust democratic institutions are usually understood as the ultimate guarantor of social peace.
However, since electoral processes are intrinsically about the attainment of political power, voting as a process of competition for power can be a catalyst for conflict.
On Tuesday March 29, 2016, a consultative meeting took place between political party leaders to find ways of curbing the recent spates of political violence.
Eighteen political party leaders, including President Edgar Lungu converged at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka for an inter-party dialogue.
Speaking when he read out the communiqué of the meeting convened by the three church mother bodies namely Zambia Episcopal Conference, Council of Churches in Zambia and Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, Archbishop of Lusaka Telepshore Mpundu said 18 political party leaders who met at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and committed themselves to ending political violence through various political leadership structures as a way of addressing the matter.
Firstly, there is need to commend the Catholic bishops and the three Church mother bodies for this initiative to end political violence among political parties.
Political party leaders too, deserve a huge pat on the back for heeding the call for dialogue from the church. As Zambia moves towards the August 11, 2016 general elections, it is evident that incidents of violence among political party supporters have been a source of growing concern among many stakeholders.
According to the UNDP (2009) there are three aspects of electoral violence: Firstly, electoral violence is defined as a subtype of political violence, but distinguished by its timing such as the closeness to elections and its goals, for example to impact elections, either by changing outcomes or to disrupt the elections themselves.
Secondly, electoral violence can be physical violence, but can also include threats and intimidation and thirdly, electoral violence can be targeted against people such as candidates, voters, electoral officials or objects for example, ballots or electoral facilities.
However, in order to amicably deal with political violence, a framework for examining electoral violence can also be identified in addition to the resolution passed by the various political party leaders who attended the meeting convened by the three church mother bodies as a way of addressing the matter.
This framework should identify the following steps: Firstly, who is responsible for the violence? This should not necessarily be limited to those actually committing the violence, for instance those who are physically involved, but also those responsible for orchestrating the violence in the political parties.
Secondly, who is the violence targeted at? Is it the candidates and/or their family members, their campaigners or supporters, voters or the electoral management body?
Thirdly, how is the violence perpetrated? Is it the politicians or criminal gangs who orchestrate it?
Is the violence spontaneous or planned? The intensity of the violence can also range from a threatening phone call to a candidate or a family member and or political party supporter to intimidation or threaten them with physical violence.
Fourthly, where does the violence take place? Is it in the capital city or remote areas where the government and state security such as the police may exercise little control or is the violence predominantly concentrated in areas dominated by the opposition or the ruling party?
Fifthly, what drives the violence? Why do perpetrators use violence? It is important to note that motives for political violence can be broad. For instance, some motives for violence can be to change the electoral outcome, to protest against the electoral results, to disrupt the elections, to skew the playing field or narrow it in order to stop other political competitors from having a level playing field.
Sixthly, what particular incidents or events trigger the violence? Is it during campaign rally where inflammatory language is used by political leaders and their supporters or is it the delay in the announcement of election results?
What conditions allow the violence to take place? These conditions can range from very broad, contextual or structural drivers of violence such as weak laws, unequal application of the law, inequitable distribution of power and resources and so on.
Electoral or constitutional arrangements can also play a role in inflaming electoral violence.
And lastly, what effect does violence have on the elections on democracy and peace? Does it change the results, affect the electoral preferences, undermine the legitimacy of the elections, and deepen societal divisions?
These are all factors and questions that need answers and can be included as a framework to end political violence before, during and after the August 11 general elections.
The author is a fourth-year student in political science at the University of Zambia.

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