Editor's Comment

Democracy shouldn’t be this expensive

THAT the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is about to exceed the K13 million budget on the three by-elections including Kabwata is heart-rending. ECZ had budgeted for K13,009,600.53 to conduct the by-elections in Kabwata (parliamentary) as well as the Sokontwe and Liangati ward by-elections. But following the withdrawal of the United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate in the Kabwata parliamentary election, which was billed for January 20, ECZ has postponed the event. Because of this, ECZ, in line with the law, has had to set a new date for the poll and conduct fresh nominations for the Kabwata election.
While democracy is said to be expensive, these are some costs that can and should be avoided. The postponement of the Kabwata by-election is one such turn of events that could have been avoided. This is a huge cost to the treasury filled by taxpayers’ money. In a country where most people live on less than K20 a day and with a lot of needs such as school bursaries, social security protection and infrastructure development, such a cost is a slap in the face of people. The country is in the rainy season with farmers in need of inputs while rains are wreaking havoc to infrastructure such as houses, schools, health facilities and roads. This means that the Government has so many competing needs to attend to within its constrained budget.
Much as the country cannot avoid by-elections, especially those arising from death, others can be avoided such as the withdrawal by the UPP candidate, who has caused the annulment of the Kabwata election. The country is in a hurry to develop and improve the well-being of its people. Wastage should not be tolerated in the name of democracy. What citizens are always looking forward to is a democracy in which citizens are given an opportunity to participate in governance. For instance, the Kabwata by-election, just like the ward elections in Sokontwe and Liangati, has offered voters an opportunity to interact with Government. As the United Party for National Development officials campaigned for their candidates in Kabwata, Sokontwe and Liangati, they got feedback from voters on the impact of their policies. The UPND too had an opportunity to explain the various pronouncements made by the party since it formed Government and how those pronouncements will translate into a better Zambia. The other political parties also explain their policies and how the election of their candidates will strengthen democracy through the provision of checks and balances. The Patriotic Front, for instance, has used Kabwata and the two ward elections as part of their rebranding programme. Yet for others, the three elections, including the upcoming ones, are part of their mobilisation for the 2026 general election. To strengthen democracy and eliminate wastage, there is urgent need to change the law. There is need for constitutional amendments urgently. Admittedly, there is a huge cost to the constitutional lacunae in the 2016 Amended Constitution. But there is no need to continue crying over spilt milk. Lessons learnt from the cancelled elections and nominations are enough. There is need to penalise people who withdraw so that it serves as a deterrent to others. The country can no longer continue wasting resources through withdrawals. We hope the Ministry of Justice is on top of things.

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