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Part 2: The Party

A PEOPLE that do not know or value their own history and power will eventually worship their captors as heroes and build monuments for those who undermined their very existence.

A people like that, are typically left to their own peril to celebrate a history manufactured for their stagnation than their emancipation and progress.

Such is the history of politics and particularly of political parties in Zambia where the political narrative has been crafted by those who seek to dissuade the majority from understanding their true history that is worthy of celebration.  

Zambia was not always a democratic system of many political parties, or social and economic equity. In fact, at the time multiparty politics was reintroduced in 1991 the text of the constitution was changed so that civil servants were no longer forced to vow allegiance to the ruling party as the case had been under the one-party state, 1973 to 1990 (Section 9(3) of the 1991 Constitution refers).  

This meant that before 1991, the then ruling party infused itself into the institution of government (both local and central government) to the extent that seniority in – and loyalty to – the ruling party were more paramount than qualifications, let alone the freedom of expression and choice.  

It is possible that national holidays pronounced during that era intended to create reverence and adulation for the leadership than introspection among citizens. It is a paradox to imagine that political independence was celebrated by a citizenry that was not allowed any actual independence or freedom in their own nation.

This changed to the extent that the first truly democratic constitution of 1996 enshrined a text in the preamble of the constitution which has remained unchanged and reads in part that “…. Zambia is a unitary, indivisible, multi-party and democratic sovereign.”

This new legal text challenged the erstwhile notion that national unity (or indivisibility) was only possible under one party and one leader. That national unity would be threatened when people had the right to choose their own leaders and change those leaders if they did not meet the people’s expectations.

On the contrary, the new law contested that multi-partyism does not dissolve sovereignty or unity but rather ensures a value system because citizens are allowed to contribute to national issues as they deem fit, within the ambits of the law.  Furthermore, that one of the best ways for citizens to contribute to national affairs is by creating or belonging to groups called political parties. 

The current constitution now goes as far as defining a political party under Article 266 as “…an association whose objectives include the contesting of elections in order to form government or influence the policy of the national or local government.”

Restriction of multiple political parties is removed and contestation of any election is no longer barred. The law does not again exist to legally secure the prevalence of only one political party and its leadership in perpetuity. 

This text of law contains powerful words that guarantee and protect the worth and value of citizens in their pursuit of participating in shaping the national agenda collectively.

More importantly, the law takes power away from being centred in the president and converts that power into rights for all citizens. 

To that end, Articles 21 and 50 now respectively guarantee freedom of association and access to media by political candidates.   The major discouragement concerning political parties is that they should not have divisive manifestos based on race, religion or tribe among others.

Another is that they are not entitled to use public resources to achieve their goals. This last point is one of the reasons that the one-party state sought to blur the lines between government and party. For, if the government and the party are indivisible, then the resources entitled to government can be used for party objectives – since government is filled with party members and the party objectives inextricably become national objectives, in that mis-logic. To claim accountability in such a carefully constructed arcane construct would be a challenge

With the evolution of multiparty politics came multiple media outlets including social media, which has proven revolutionary. Over the last 30 years of multi-party politics in Zambia, the nation has changed four different political parties into office.  The line between government and the party continues to be contentious to enforce practically although consensus is that they should be, and are separate.

By and large, the system of filling the positions of permanent secretary with notable scholars which started in 1991 has faced the most challenge because while the civil service has become highly educated and trained, party functionaries are often preferred by ruling parties to hold that senior position. The argument there is that it is easier to deliver on the party’s manifesto from the front.

On the other hand, the opponents of this view argue that it has only served to create acrimony by allowing party functionaries to be entrenched in government thereby serving the interest of the party rather than the nation.

It is also argued that the continued hiring of party cadres in civil service positions has been used as a means of rewarding cadres for supporting the party in government and thereby helping to create a civil service that is devoid of professionalism because fixing political foes rather than addressing the challenges faced by the citizens becomes a priority.

Either way, it is better to have contentious discussions and diverse open debate than be excluded and barred from talking at all. In this regard, multiparty democracy has been enabling. While no party has so far returned to office after losing power, it is highly feared that the intensity of retribution would by far increase if any party was to return to office under such a partisan inclined civil service.

During the same 30-year period, there have been attempts at coalitions in and outside government. The political party system must not be viewed as an irritation on the leadership, but rather an avenue of diverse political expression guaranteed by law.

With that in mind, it is important that deliberate attempts are made to depoliticise the civil service if the cycle of retribution, political purging and settling of personal scores is to end and to allow for a professional apolitical cadre free service to thrive in Zambia.

Ultimately, the victory of multipartyism can be summed up this way: Contesting an election is now by right; association is no longer by permission and ambition to form Government is not a taboo but a legally settled matter of constitutional right.  

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