Editor's Note

How long is the judiciary going to ignore UPND’s petition?

Five months ago Zambia went to the polls to elect a new president. The 50.35% who voted for PF’s Edgar Lungu got what they wanted, but the 47.63% who voted for UPND’s Hakainde Hichilema did not. Not surprisingly, taking the neck-on-neck result into consideration, the whole thing ended up in court. However, after an initial burst of activity in the Constitutional Court, the challenge to Lungu’s election has ground to a halt in the High Court. Here, UPND is arguing that its right to a fair hearing was breached in September 2016, when the Constitutional Court dismissed its election petition without trial for want of time. Yet, nothing is happening in this matter, as High Court Judge Mwila Chitabo has refused to make a ruling since UPND cadres ran amok at the court in December 2016. I find it rather disturbing that a judge is allowed to act in this way. In fact, I would have thought it was outright illegal as it amounts to obstruction of justice. Chitabo argued that he would not make a ruling until the UPND could control its cadres, but no one knows what this entails. Chitabo seems to be forgetting that if he ever finds the courage to rule that UPND’s rights were breached, and therefore orders a trial of its election petition, it would actually be in the interest of the ruling party. Lungu’s democratic credentials as a president are marred by allegations of electoral malpractices. A re-trial of UPND’s election petition would give him a chance to disprove the allegations. However, it is now two months since Chitabo dug his heels in, giving the impression that he is quite happy delaying justice for a lot longer.

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.”