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KABWATA SAGA

THE continued debate on the implications of the cancellation of the Kabwata constituency parliamentary by-election must compel the nation into action and the urgency to revise the constitution.

The debate has gathered momentum as stakeholders now appear to understand the injustices that the innocent suffer when a by-election is cancelled just because one of the candidates withdraws.

 The Kabwata by-election was slated for January 20 and was meant to replace the late UPND Member of Parliament, Mr Levy Mkandawire who died in a tragic road accident.

After all the prospective parliamentary candidates representing different political parties had filed in their nominations, and paid the prescribed fees, a candidate representing the United Progressive Party pulled out.

Moreover, this was after the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) had the ballot papers printed in the United Arab Emirates, obviously at great expense to the nation.

It was like “all hell broke loose” as interested parties debated whether the by-election should go ahead. But the ECZ, in line with the constitution had no choice but to cancel the by-election and call for fresh elections. It has since set the new date, February 3 for the by-election. And herein comes in a new poser.

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Now, various stakeholders have called on the ECZ to waive nomination fees from candidates in the Kabwata by-election. They are basing their argument that they had already paid the nomination fees for the cancelled January 20 by-election and should not be compelled to pay fresh fees again for the new February 3 election.

The Economic and Equity Party president Mr Chilufya Tayali has backed calls by Patriots for Economic Progress (PeP) president Sean Tembo to stop the ECZ from getting fresh nomination fees from candidates for the Kabwata seat because they have already paid.

Mr Tembo has petitioned the Constitutional Court to stop the ECZ from asking for fresh nomination fees from parties whose candidates paid for the cancelled January 20 poll. Mr Tembo said the decision by ECZ to have all political parties to go for fresh nomination was irrational and unfair because they already paid.

Mr Tayali, who is also contesting the Kabwata parliamentary seat, said he supports Mr Tembo because it was not fair to the candidates. Mr Tayali said it was not correct that other candidates be penalised for having done nothing. He argued that candidates who were valid with their earlier nomination should not be subjected to another nomination and not just the fees, but only the party concerned should have to pay. But that is the price that the country will have to continue to pay if the many lacunas in the constitution are not attended to.

It is not as though this is the first time this is being done. Even in the run up to the August 12, 2021 tripartite elections, a number of constituencies had to hold nominations twice due to withdrawals or deaths of candidates. The ECZ, then, and now is simply applying what the constitution says it must do in such circumstances – restart the whole process again. It is quite an expensive exercise for the smaller parties and they are right to cry foul.

But that is the price of democracy. This is the more reason why when the constitution review process starts, everyone must jump on board and not be influenced by petty partisan politics. The constitution is a serious affair that must not be sacrificed at the altar of partisan interests.

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