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ARE INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES FIGHTING FOR POLITICAL SURVIVAL?

By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE

MANY would-be candidates in the forthcoming August 12 general elections had been scratching their heads wondering whether they could stand as independent candidates after failing to secure adoptions from their respective political parties.

These are politicians at the heart of Zambia’s slow motion political crack-up – now they have to win solo to stay in the game.

If the long-predicted reconfiguration of Zambian politics under the country’s electoral system and strain of Covid-19 pandemic is to come to pass, watch out on post-election day for the success or failure of a new breed of independent candidates.

Prominent MPs, including some former ministers, who then found themselves profoundly at odds with their party top-leadership had either been forced out of their political comfort zone or chosen to go it alone.

That’s a huge step in a political culture and electoral system heavily dominated by two main parties – the ruling Patriotic Front and United Party for National Development.

Independent candidates are not new to the Zambian political scene, but they rarely win. And when they do, they have in the past struggled to make much of an impact in Parliament to the detriment of their constituents.

Besides, leaving one’s party is a huge step in a country heavily dominated by two main parties.

With both main parties shifting to the adoption extremes and fractures beginning to appear (the last parliament ended with 14 MPs no longer in the two main parties due to them failing to secure adoptions in 2016 elections or having been expelled for a variety of reasons) Zambia’s general election in August will be a defining moment.

It will either shore up the cracks and so consolidate the main parties’ grip, or widen the fissures opened up by the country’s Constitution and Covid-19 restrictions of campaigns.

In a highly volatile and complex series of electoral contests, the fate of independent candidates will be a good barometer of which it will turn out to be.

Known and unknown to many, there are only three conditions required to be met for one to file in the nomination with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) as an independent candidate.

You must meet the qualification in Article 70 clause 1 of the Constitution of Zambia. You must not be a member of any political party at the time of filing in your nomination.

Even if you resigned just some minutes before filing in your nomination, you would have met this qualification. You should not have been a member of a political party at least two months before the general elections.

Meaning that by June 14, 2021, everyone who had filed in for independent candidature should not have been a member of any political party. Everyone who would have met the first and second criteria would have met this qualification unless they had decided to rejoin the political party.  That begs the question: Can an independent candidate at parliamentary or local government level pledge allegiance to any one presidential candidate?

Legal and electoral experts say that there is no provision of the law, both in the country’s Constitution or the electoral laws which prevents an independent candidate from supporting any presidential candidate.

This means that an independent candidate may even campaign alongside any of the presidential candidates or in favour of a presidential candidate.

Citing the only provision of the law, contained in Regulation 15, Sub Regulation (f) of the Electoral Code of Conduct that no persons is allowed to plagiarise the symbols, colours or acronyms of candidates of other political parties.

To plagiarise means to take someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. What are being prevented from being used as one’s work are the symbols, colours or acronyms.

Understandably, if one stood as an independent parliamentary candidate, one may either support the PF or UPND presidential candidate. There is nothing in the law that compels one not to use the portrait or faces of his or her preferred presidential candidate. So, are Zambia’s independent candidates fighting for political survival?

However, common-sense suggests that independent candidates who might support presidential candidates are more likely to increase the numbers of their preferred presidential candidate whilst competing against their fellow parliamentary or local government opponents.

But cynics and critics have observed that our country’s politics have long given up being sensible and predictable.

Besides, our political reality of two-party dominance and an electoral system that allows citizens to elect directly their head of State, means that the contestant who wins the presidential race forms government, regardless of the numbers of MPs or councillors he might have gained in the elections.

So if any of our political parties are interested to form government, they must see independents as a supplementary forum they can utilise to increase the chances of their presidential contestants.

Perhaps this was the case with ex-Kitwe District Commissioner Binwell Mpundu and ex-Kalulushi Mayor Rashida Mulenga who resigned from the PF in their quest to contest as independent parliamentary candidates for Nkana and Kalulushi respectively.

But in stark contrast to the way its political opponent, the PF, does politics – the UPND supporters disrupted the Mwandi Parliamentary nominations after they blocked a would-be independent candidate Lisulo Siloba from presenting his nomination papers.

Mr Siloba had earlier applied to stand on the UPND ticket but was not adopted and opted to stand as an independent. When he turned up to file in his nomination, he was chased with stones by irate UPND cadres at Mwandi Basic School, the venue of the nominations.

The cadres insisted that the man had not resigned from the UPND and told ECZ officials not to accept his nominations. Police had a tough time to control the cadres who insisted that he should not be allowed to present the documents.

Sadly, as the embattled would-be independent candidate was driving away in fear, he hit into an unidentified female who was taken to hospital.  Her condition has since been described as stable.

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