By ANTHONY MIYOBA
Traditionally, electoral campaigns are opportunities for political parties and their candidates to propagate their manifestos about how public policies should change or remain the same.
Political campaigns allow citizens to evaluate their options and they are rituals which have always pigeonholed Zambia’s democratic process since the country turned to multiparty politics.
Then the coronavirus pandemic came and hit all nations across the globe.
The COVID-19 has now become the prism through which many countries including Zambia are adapting to the new ways of life and spreading their policy ideas. The pandemic has placed a profound strain on the traditional electoral process of in-person campaigns not only in Zambia but in many other democracies.
The COVID-19 still remains a public health emergency of monumental concern in Zambia. Yet some opposition political parties such as the United Party for National Development (UPND) are ready to defy the World Health Organisation (WHO) health guidelines and risk the lives of the people from whom they are seeking votes.
There is the real risk that large-scale in-person political campaigns could cause unprecedented spread of COVID-19 and President Lungu as Head of State has the obligation to preserve the lives of Zambians from whom the opposition is also seeking votes.
As a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus, elections in some other countries have since been postponed. Zambia however goes to the polls in August but this year’s general elections will not be like any other as they will be held under situational adaptation widely referred to as the “ New Normal.”
President Edgar Chagwa Lungu during the launch of the PF campaign, called for adaptation to the new methods of election campaigns and directed that large-scale public rallies should be restricted to protect public health.
The Head of State has advised political parties to devise alternative forms of campaigns because public rallies are risky as they have been said as super spreaders of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
President Lungu has prioritized public health over electoral considerations and has announced that the Patriotic Front will adhere to public health guidelines and it is his hope that other political parties would be as responsible and protect human life by avoiding rallies.
“As President, I will not allow myself or indeed others to risk the lives of our people at the expedience of politics. Therefore, in my capacity as Head of State and Government, I hereby direct the police service and the ministry of health to ensure enforcement of the COVID-19 pandemic health regulations and guidelines without fear or favour,” President Lungu said.
The Head of State announced that the PF party would not be holding the famous public rallies owing to the covid-19 pandemic and would follow the official guidelines and protect citizens’ lives.
President said the PF had come up with effective and efficient COVID-19 compliant campaign strategies that would ensure the ruling party delivered its objectives without abrogating the public health guidelines.
“I promise not to abrogate the Covid-19 health regulations and guidelines. But I also expect my opponents to show responsibility and avoid public rallies, which have been found to be super-spreaders of COVID-19 by health experts. The situation in India of escalated numbers of COVID-19 cases and loss of life, as it has been reported, was as a result of political rallies and we must surely learn from that,” The Head of State said.
He told Zambians that there has been a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Zambia and that it would be irresponsibility of the highest order if political leaders would go ahead and invite multitudes to super-spreader events such as what was witnessed last week when Mr Hakainde Hichilema was filing his nominations.
“I hope that is the last time that we shall see such irresponsibility,” President Lungu said.
Several countries worldwide were forced to delay or reschedule their election campaigns due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic which is still causing chaos, fear and terror among many nations.
The UPND has nonetheless vowed that it will continue with its public gatherings in defiance to the health of the Ministry of Health and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and sacrifice the lives of Zambians at the altar of political expedience.
UPND president Hakainde Hichilema has vowed that his party would bombastically defy the health regulations and guidelines from health experts and hold public rallies because according to him, the COVID-19 was not a threat but was being weaponized to disadvantage his party.
Mr Hichilema is now daring President Lungu to stop the UPND from holding their campaign rallies because as far as he is concerned, the police will not be able to stop him from assuming the leadership of the country.
According to statistics released on July 27 by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 68 countries and territories have postponed national or local elections due to the pandemic from Feb 21 to July 26.
In the South American, Somali, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Iran, elections were postponed because of the COVID-19 but Zambia is going ahead with the August 12 general elections with strict observance of health guidelines as spelt out by the healthy authorities.
In Germany, the ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) delayed indefinitely a conference which was scheduled for April 25, 2021 against the backdrop of the coronavirus.
The defiance the UPND has announced to defy health protocols and guidelines and daring of the Head State is nothing but a sign that the opposition political party and its leadership is an enemy of the people from whom they are seeking the votes.