Sep 26, 2011

The people have spoken

Picture courtesy of UKZambians
The campaigns are over, the ballots counted, and a new president has been inaugurated. We also have a split parliament since no party has an overwhelming majority. There was jubilation in some corners and utter shock in others. The people have spoken. 

This election outcome is noteworthy for various reasons:
  1. the incumbent president was defeated by an opposition leader, who was making his 4th attempt at becoming president and had at one point been one of the top bwanas in the ruling party 
  2. the ousted ruling party had been in power for 20, albeit with three different leaders
  3. women’s representation in parliament has been reduced. We have only 16 female MPs in the 148 member body which accounts for a paltry 10.8 percent. It was previously 14%.
You’ll notice I didn’t add “peaceful transition” as part of the noteworthy items. This is an intentional omission because Zambia does not have a history of electoral violence. Sure there are rubble rousers here and there out to cause trouble and this last election wasn’t an exception but by and large we do not have the culture and environment that fosters such ugliness. With that said, shame on the people who intentionally destroyed private and public property, I hope the law catches up with them before too long. We have no place for such in our communities. 

When our now former president held a press conference to concede defeat and congratulate the winner of the presidential elections, I was really chuffed with pride! Zambians had once again shown why we are set apart from other countries who continue to be held hostage by sycophants & ruling elites with blood on their hands.

Furthermore, elections monitoring was aided by the launch of BantuWatch which provided an avenue for vigilant Zambians in all corners of the country to immediately report concerns without fear of being grabbed by police forces and thrown in jail for speaking up. I really like this initiative because it put power back in citizens’ hands, and we didn’t have to rely solely on the government, SADC or EU to inform us of what was happening at polling stations across the land.   

Many people expressed frustrations with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) for the rate at which results were being announced. Before the start of the elections, the chairperson of the ECZ had promised the results would be announced within 48 hours of the polls closing, and they were well within this schedule given the fact that some stations had delayed voting due to various factors – ballot papers arriving late, elections officials seemingly being unprepared, unruly party cadres causing confusion, etc. 

ECZ definitely needs to assess how they conducted their business and make changes for next time, particularly in the area of providing verified results in a timely manner to the media and through their web site. Otherwise, they will continue to feed fears (rational or irrational) about vote rigging and unsubstantiated rumours spreading like wild fire about who is leading, who has lost, etc will not be doused. 

Credit is due to commercial and local radio stations like Q-FM Zambia who provided live coverage when verified results were announced. This was a handy tool to have especially when coupled with a live stream easily accessible for those living outside Zambia. They definitely stepped up and issued a challenge to others in the market! 

The next steps

Every single candidate who ran did it on a particular platform. As the dust has settled we know the names of all our representatives. Democracy only works if it is participatory. We cannot sit back & say “let elected officials figure it out.” Absolutely not! They need to hear from us on a variety of issues:
  1. Draft constitution that continues to die in parliament. We need a constitution written to reflect the will of the people, and not for politicians and their closest allies. 
  2. Economic expansion that brings jobs and more money into people’s pockets
  3. Elimination of government waste
  4. Education reform that (a) stops the counter-intuitive practice of throwing school children out of the system for not passing exams, and (b) builds a system that trains children and adults for the jobs of today and tomorrow. 
  5. Legal protections that have teeth for the most vulnerable in our society – children, women (widows, women who haven't achieved economic or political autonomy), people with disabilities, people with long term illnesses, children born behind bars, etc. 
Stay vigilant, participate and guard our democracy from those who may seek to exploit it for their gain - only then can we taste true prosperity! 

3 comments:

Nice post. True, Zambia does not have a history of electoral violence, and I hope it stays that way. Zambia just might have nudged Ghana out for the title of "Africa's Most Democratic State". Five different Presidents in twenty years. Makes me proud to be an African.

Sounds like a Ghanaian election! But as you remind us, we have to remain vigilant. Running good elections does not a democracy make. We have to hold the candidates accountable. This is Ghana's problem. Let me know when Zambia finds a solution. Congratulations.

This would have been a great election to have participated in given how many new, young voters turned out and cast their ballots for the firs time.

Will definitely be tracking the happenings within the country & new govts. Updates will continue to come. As Kinna said aptly, "running good elections does not a democracy make."

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