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PRESS RELEASE

ZAMBIA EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE (ZEC)

Statement on the 20th January 2015 Presidential Election

1. INTRODUCTION

On 20th January 2015, Zambians went to the polls to elect 6th Republican President following the demise of President Michael Chilufya Sata, on28th October 2014.May he rest in peace. We, the Catholic Bishops in Zambia, congratulate Mr. Edgar Lungu on his election as Zambia’s Sixth President. We wish God’s rich and abundant blessings in his leadership of the Zambian nation.We commend the other ten candidates who participated in the election for exercising their constitutional right to participate in one of our democratic processes.

We also congratulate the Zambian people and its electorate for once again demonstrating their maturing democratic culture and sailing through a very competitive election experience yet emerging true to our cherished national motto of ONE ZAMBIA ONE NATION. We did it in 1991, 1996, 2001, 2008, 2011 and 2015 each time in different circumstances. We note that in spite of the usual tension and challenges that characterize our electoral process we have once again successfully pulled through. This is, indeed, a record to be proud of. We pray and hope that now we will move forward together as a nation for the very reason that we hold elections, namely to provide a leadership framework that will improve the quality of life for all Zambians particularly the poor and weak in our society.

In this spirit, we call upon the Republican President and his administration to work towards national reconciliation and building. He must not only talk but also, and more so, rise to the occasion, transcend partisan politics, act as President for all Zambians by working with all, even, and indeed especially with those who did not vote for him. The presidency and its administration is the fulcrum of our national unity.

We challenge the unsuccessful candidates to continue and heighten their very valuable contribution to the nation building by providing the much needed, effective and constructive checks and balances to those entrusted with the responsibility to govern this nation. At the end of the day it is the Zambia people and nation that will emerge as the winner not one political party. We therefore appeal to all Christians and all citizens to embrace the spirit f forgiveness and reconciliation as an invaluable legacy to bequeath our posterity.

2. OUR CONCERNS

In spite of its success, the 20th January 2015 presidential election event is a wake-up call to the flaw in the electoral process which, if left unchecked, poses a serious threat to our struggle to embrace constitutionalism at all levels of political organization and activity.

2.1 Intra-party Democracy

In the run up to the presidential election, the process of selecting candidates particularly within major contending parties was fraught with controversy and conflict which spilled over and affected the lives of citizens who are not even members of those parties. It exposed glaring deficiencies of the political parties’ constitutions, the inability or unwillingness to adhere to constitutional provisions and blatant indiscipline resulting in a circus of litigation. Major political parties must always bear in mind that they are a Government-in-waiting. They therefore must acquit themselves and pass the litmus test in regard to constitutionalism and discipline within their own parties. The electorate will not entrust the instruments of governance to a Political Party that does not make the grade in this regard. We therefore appeal to political parties to put their own houses in order before aspiring to assume the administration of our country.

2.2 Campaign Messages

The Zambian people in general and the electorate in particular are tired of enduring but unfulfilled campaign promises. This has led to an almost total loss of confidence in the politicians and the consequential voter apathy. Aspirants to public office must be sincere and make realistic and achievable promises. The electorate on the other hand has the right to make their political leaders accountable for unfulfilled pledges. This right must find room in our political process to be exercised by the citizenry.

2.3 Political Violence

Political campaign is a democratic contest and sale of ideas on a political platform of how to propel the nation’s developmental agenda forward. Physical violence is an admission of fear or failure to impress and win the electorate. Prior to the election, we and leaders of other churches, spoke passionately on the need to observe peace before, during and after the election event. We therefore denounce in the strongest terms the violence witnessed in the campaigns leading to the just ended 2015 presidential election. This violence is bound to tarnish our so far respectable national democratic credentials. The law must be made to visit offenders, leaders or members of political parties that ensconce intra or/and inter party violence regardless of who they are because we are all equal before the law. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and the police service must be given the necessary legal instruments to deal with offenders. In this regard the police service must be above board in their non-partisan and professional conduct, thereby engendering and sustaining public confidence in the electoral process.

2.4 Tribalism

Tribalism is a reality we can ignore at our peril. It cannot be ignored that apart from the very cosmopolitan areas of Lusaka and the Copperbelt, and to a certain extent the provincial capitals, the electorate has, since independence in 1964, naturally voted for a candidate they know from their own area or region. It is therefore unfortunate that the just ended presidential election has been perceived by some as tribally polarized with regard to the two front runners of the UPND and PF as if the pattern of voting as radically changed in the rural areas. The truth of the matter, however, is that there is nothing new to the pattern. In fact there is a clear indication that Zambia is truly one nation and is challenging the traditional voting pattern.

The situation of 72 tribes in Zambia that speak 43 languages is not a curse on the nation but a singular blessing from God. Jesus the Son of God identifies himself with each and all of us, individually and tribally, created in the image and likeness of God. We must thank God for this rich cultural diversity that can only strengthen our nation through mutual appreciation and celebration of one another's giftedness. Zambia, fifty (50) years after independence, has so fast ethnically integrated that any politician who tries to pull a tribal card in pursuit of public office or to marginalize a political opponent is hopelessly antiquated. The choice of leaders to public office should be based on merit and not on tribe, race, colour or even political affiliation.

2.5 The Media

The Media is an indispensable and one of the pillars of viable and sustained democratic governance. In their vital role of informing and educating the public they must be scrupulously professional, objective, responsible, ethical and non-partisan. With regard to tribalism they should not exaggerate isolated incidents of tribalism, real or imagined, to funnel tribal tension. Zambians love peace and wish to live in harmony with one another. This is a delicate balance which ought to be nurtured, jealously guarded and protected. We therefore denounce the misuse of the public and social media to destroy instead of building the nation by empowering our people through accurate information rather than through misinformation and irresponsible sensationalism.

2.6 Chiefs, Traditional Leaders and Partisan Politics

We were greatly distressed that some traditional leaders, in spite of repeated calls by the ECZ for traditional leaders to refrain from using their authority to unduly influence the electoral choices of their subjects, openly and brazenly endorsed their preferred candidates. This was in contravention of the electoral code of conduct and the law that forbids traditional leaders to engage in partisan politics, and yet the offending leaders went scotch free. Traditional leaders are guardians of their subjects; they should therefore be proud of and protect the political diversity among their subjects’ constitutional right to vote for a candidate of their choice. Either the existing law is repealed or those found wanting are made to face the law. No one is above the law.

2.7 Members of the Clergy

We are disconcerted by and severely reprimand those of our priests who gave platform to candidates to speak to their faithful during liturgical services, particularly holy mass, in manner that is indirectly or directly connected with campaigning. We also disparage the behaviour of those of our priests who openly or privately campaigned for their own preferred candidates or parties. Such priests tarnish the image of our church as a non-partisan “Prophetic voice in defense of the poor in order to uplift their lives” and to work for the common good of all the people (Cf. Pope Francis’ Address to Catholic Bishops of Zambia during their Ad Limina Apostolorum Visit on 17th November 2014). Priests who indulge in partisan politics are in the political arena on their own; they have neither authorization nor backing from their diocesan Bishops.

2.8 Low Voter Turnout

The low voter turnout during January 2015 presidential election has been attributed mainly to the timing (in this case determined by the constitution) during the rainy and farming season. However, there are other reasons that contributed to the 34% voter turnout.The main factor to us seems to be voter apathy, the trend of which has been growing since the 1991 general elections. We call upon all stakeholders to identify and address the root cause as a matter of urgency because democracy is a game of numbers without which the legitimacy of the outcome of polls is seriously called into question. One of the ways to address this trend is to review our electoral laws. The pending review of the constitutional and parliamentary laws is an opportunity which should not once again pass us by.

2.9 CONCLUSION

The January 2015 Presidential election provides us with lessons to learn as we prepare for the 2016 tripartite elections:

  • We must expedite the Legal Reforms (Constitution and Statutory Regulation) to enable us to deal with such issues as the date of elections and the costly by elections.
  • The law provides for Continuous Voter Registration and Verification.The Government must provide the ECZ with the necessary and timely funding to undertake this very important task.
  • More polling stations particularly in the rural areas must be created in order to reduce the distances to polling stations, enable and motivate voters to cast their vote.
  • The Government must financially empower the ECZ to put in place in this age of Internet / Communication and Information Technology, a system to allow voters to cast their ballots from any polling stations given the high mobility of citizens.
  • All political parties participating in the elections must be involved in educating their members on the importance of voting, rule and practices of elections. They also must provide and accredit Monitors at all Polling Stations to ensure transparency thereby reduce if not eliminate all suspicions and unsubstantiated claims of rigging that always mar our elections.This also demands working with the ECZ in witnessing and verifying the ballots as they are cast and counted in the polling stations and transmitted to the ECZ.

Finally,we once again appeal to all Zambians to embrace and promote peace and tranquility in our land; without peace there is no development to talk about in our beloved country. The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Issued on 30th January 2015

Telesphore George Mpundu
Archbishop of Lusaka
ZEC President

 

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CARITAS Zambia is a Catholic Organization that is an integral structure of the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC). The Episcopal Conference (or Bishops Conference) is a permanent grouping of Bishops of a given nation or territory that jointly exercises certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of their territory. This they do to promote the greater good which the Church offers humankind

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