State House has accused the judiciary of meddling in politics after two of the ruling PF party’s MPs had their elections nullified (presumably, State House was less concerned about the other two nullifications so far, involving a UPND MP and an independent MP).
President Lungu’s spokesman, Amos Chanda, told ZNBC TV on 27 November that there was discomfort in the ruling party over the conduct of the judiciary, and that the latter should stay away from politics, threatening “Kenya-style” judicial reforms (Kenya has cleaned up its corrupt judiciary in recent years, albeit for completely different reasons, as the Kenyan judiciary was seen as an extension of the executive, whereas Chanda accused the Zambian judiciary of working against the executive).
His exact words gained enormous significance this week, as will become clear below.
However, first a look at the reactions. The UPND took it as proof that government had manipulated its election petition: “From what Amos Chanda said last night, it now confirms how the PF leadership has been intimidating and controlling the judiciary,” stated UPND Secretary General Stephen Katuka. It was backed by the Green Party, which called the “attack (…) and the threat of purge (…) extremely disturbing and frightening”.
Civil society was also concerned. The Foundation for Democratic Process explained that is was “deeply appalled” by the “unjustifiable and unfortunate attacks” on the judiciary, reminding Chanda that the constitution directs that “a person holding a public office shall not interfere with performance of a judicial function by a judge or judicial officer”.
And the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) “strongly condemned” the attack: “These comments are extremely unfortunate in view of the fact that many of the election petition cases have gone on appeal. The comments appear to have been made in an attempt to influence the decisions of the appeal courts. More worrying is the fact that Mr Chanda claims that he was speaking on behalf of the republican president, who is the appointing authority of all judicial officers. Mr Chanda, who as a press aide to the office of the republican president is meant to be a non-partisan civil servant, appears to have overstepped his mandate into the realm of partisan politics. The statements attributable to Mr Chanda also lend credence to views in some sections of society that the judiciary is being manipulated by the ruling party,” stated LAZ president Linda Kasonde.
The ruling PF party was not impressed, and accused LAZ of being political, just like the judges, presumably. “What is fair in our view is that Ms Kasonde, UPND and the questionable Mast must come out in the open and state that they are one political front bent on one thing – the opposition of President Lungu,” stated PF’s media committee member Sunday Chanda.
And Lungu, himself a lawyer, defended his spokesman: “All of us are prone to criticism – the executive, judiciary and the legislature – but within the modicum of respect and decency of their roles. I have heard Amos, I was talking to him, and he says he did not say anything to warrant that [criticism]”.
Lungu explained that he had therefore ordered ZNBC to re-broadcast the interview on 1 December after the news “so we can all hear for ourselves what he said”, and continued: “Zambians depend on hearsay, opinion and want to run with what others think, so I am saying let’s listen to what Amos said, then we can debate.”
Election petition statistics:
At least 84 parliamentary election petitions were filed after the general elections on 11 August.
5 petitions have been withdrawn according to reports so far; all in constituencies won by the PF.
25 petitions have been dismissed by the courts, securing the seats for 13 PF MPs, 9 UPND MPs and 3 independent MPs.
Only 4 petitions have been successful: the UPND won its petition of the elections of PF Munali MP and minister of higher education Nkandu Luo and PF Lusaka Central MP and commerce minister Margaret Mwanakatwe, while the PF successfully petitioned the election of UPND Itezhi-Tezhi MP Herbert Shabula. In addition, Nalolo independent MP George Imbuwa has lost his seat.
More rulings to follow.