Editor's Note

Now we will never know!

It looks like the election petition has been concluded, before it even started. Many people have suggested, and reports seem to confirm, that last month’s elections were not entirely free and fair, but now we will never know. Whether or not the reports are true, President Lungu will reign for another five years, but always in the shadow of accusations of having rigged his way to the throne. In Zambia, such talk has a way of assuming a life of its own. No matter how many good deeds President Lungu carries out, his presidential tenure will remain tainted by allegations of having stolen the elections in 2016. The Constitutional Court would have done President Lungu a favour by allowing him to clear his name. Yet, it decided to throw out the election petition before it was heard. The learned judges, presumably the best we have, since they sit on the bench of one of our highest court, turned into pen pushers, and threw out the petition on a technicality. Furthermore, they explained in their judgment that “equity does not assist the indolent”, suggesting that the UPND was to blame, arguing that it had been slothful, presumably by raising a lot of preliminary motions, and therefore is not entitled to justice. The UPND is currently challenging the Constitutional Court in the High Court, and even though it is unlikely that the latter will rise against its big brother, I hope the UPND will continue to demonstrate that it does not consist of sloths. I hope it will use other means to publicise its purported evidence, in order to give the rest of us a chance to judge for ourselves, now that the court has decided it will not do it for us. It would allow President Lungu to begin his second term in peace.

Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly
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This Week’s Exchange

Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development, Birmingham University, UK, stated:

“Until now, Zambia’s progress under multi-party politics has been quietly impressive. Over the last year, though, things have changed. (…) According to the Conference of Catholic Bishops – one of the most influential bodies in the country – Zambia doesn’t deserve to be called a democracy (…) it has become a dictatorship – or getting there. Many Catholic leaders were seen to be sympathetic to the PF, when it won power under Michael Sata in 2011, so what has changed? This is not the first time that a Zambian president has sought to consolidate his authority by manipulating state institutions. Nor is it the first time that opposition leaders have been arrested, or civil society groups intimidated. In the recent past, these moments of high political tension have often been resolved peacefully, (…) but it’s unlikely that Lungu will cede his quest to remain in office. First, key civil society groups such as the trade unions have been weakened by privatisation, informalisation and unemployment. Second, the Constitutional Court, that’s responsible for interpreting the constitution, was handpicked by Lungu. Third, Lungu’s case is more complicated than Chiluba’s. In 2001, the second president had served two full terms in office and wanted one more. Today, Lungu is arguing that he should be allowed to have a third term because his first period in office did not count, as he was just serving out the final year of Sata’s term. All of this means that Lungu is likely to get his way. (…) Opposition protests are inevitable, as is some civil society criticism. If past form is anything to go by, Lungu’s government will respond with threats and intimidation.”

Ruling PF party deputy secretary general Mumbi Phiri reacted:

Cheeseman is nothing but an attention-seeking professor, who thinks he can lecture us about democracy. The people of Zambia spoke through the vote, and their wishes must be respected by all, including Cheeseman. Cheeseman creates the impression that there was a letter authored by all Catholic bishops, which labelled Zambia as a dictatorship. For the record, that was an opinion expressed by the archbishop. (…) It is irresponsible for Cheeseman to compare ours with late President Frederick Chiluba’s third-term bid. The view that the current constitution allows President Lungu to seek re-election (…) is before the courts of law. (…) the PF will respect the outcome of the court system. President Lungu’s good governance record remains solid. It was President Lungu’s administration that took the referendum on the proposed Bill of Rights to the people. (…) it was UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema who campaigned against it. It is President Lungu’s administration, which allowed for the 50%+1 clause in the constitution, the running mate clause, and reduction of presidential powers. President Lungu believes in an independent judiciary. (…) Today, Zambia has a Constitutional Court, something that was unheard of in the history of our nation. While the opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court, President Lungu remained calm until the matter expired. We wish to correct the view that human rights of politicians in trouble with the law are being violated. Citizens, who are also politicians, and on trial, have appeared in court within a week of being charged, and (…) for continued trial. The due process of the law is clearly being followed to the letter. Professor Cheeseman‘s daydream, that Zambia is falling from grace because of HH’s arrest, is a lie. Zambia remains a shining example of democracy not only on the African continent but world over.”