VETERAN politician Vernon Johnson Mwaanga has described as nonsensical the attempt by junior government officials to close down radio stations for airing opposition leaders.

And Mwaanga says it was disappointing that despite many countries in Africa being signatories to the African Union and SADC Principles and Guidelines on elections, many of them have failed to comply with them.

In a statement, Sunday, Mwaanga also described as “madness” that lowly placed government officers and party cadres continued to infringe on laws and were not being punished.

“In the recent past junior officials of government and the ruling party, have been preventing opposition leaders from being interviewed on private or community radio stations across the country, at times claiming that the stations had no ‘police permits’ to air live interviews which had been paid for in advance. They even threaten to close radio stations, which is something beyond their powers. What kind of nonsense is this and what law are they using? Police permits were struck down by the Supreme Court of Zambia in 1996, as inconsistent with the rights and freedoms of citizens to freely assemble, as provided for by the Constitution of Zambia and the bill of rights,” Mwaanga stated.

“The police permits for public meetings, demonstrations etc, were replaced by merely notifying the police. What is more disturbing, is that the lowly placed government officers and party cadres who infringe the laws are not being punished. Party cadres have become a law unto themselves and are even assaulting police officers. What kind of madness is this? No one is above the law.”

And Mwaanga said there was no law which stipulated that opposition leaders could not campaign in a particular constituency where the President was campaigning.

“During the by-election in Chilubi Constituency, which attracted a lot of national, regional and international attention, opposition leaders were being forcibly escorted out of the constituency by the police, simply because President Edgar Lungu was going to be campaigning there. There is no such law which says that when the President of Zambia is campaigning in a particular Constituency, district or Province, no other political leaders should campaign there. During the time of MMD in government 1991 to 2011, our Presidents Frederick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda, used to campaign in the same constituencies with opposition leaders notably Anderson Mazoka, Michael Sata and Hakainde Hichilema,” Mwaanga said.

Meanwhile, Mwaanga said it was disappointing that despite many countries in Africa being signatories to the African Union and SADC Principles on election guidelines, they were failing to comply.

“Both the African Union and SADC came up with very clear and identical election guidelines and protocols in 2004 for member states, which include the duties and responsibilities of governments, political parties, Electoral Commissions, the media, election observers etc.The SADC Principles and Guidelines, governing the holding of free, fair and democratic elections, were adopted by SADC Heads of State in Mauritius in August, 2004. These principles aim at enhancing the transparency and credibility of elections and democratic governance in the SADC region as well as well as ensuring acceptance of election results by all contesting political parties and individuals who contest elections from Local Councillors right up to the Presidency. It was the fervent hope of African leaders, that these principles and guidelines would promote common political values and systems which will help consolidate, defend and maintain democracy, peace, security and stability in the SADC Region and in Africa as a whole,” Mwaanga stated.

“A great majority of African countries have modern constitutions which in theory, guarantee equal opportunities and full participation of all citizens in the political process of their respective countries. Some of the fundamental issues underlined in these protocols include : (a) Full participation of citizens (all citizens) in the political process of the country; (b) Freedom of Association; (c) Political tolerance; (d) equal opportunity for all political parties taking part in elections to access the state media; (e) equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for; (f) Independence of the judiciary and impartiality of Electoral Commissions, which must maintain strict impartiality in the conduct of their duties and which should not at anytime express any bias or preference in relation to ruling authorities, political parties or candidates taking part in elections. The role of election observers is also spelt out in great detail. The role of election observers has recently come under severe scrutiny, following their flowed election reports in Kenya, Malawi and elsewhere. Sadly many countries observe these protocols to which they are a party in breach rather than in compliance.One just has to look at what has been happening in Zambia, which is a signatory to both AU and SADC protocols for the holding of free, fair, transparent and democratic elections.”

Mwaanga urged youths to register as voters in the 2021 general elections.

“For all practical purposes, the Electoral process for August 2021 has already begun with issuance of National Registration Cards, which must be done fairly in all parts of Zambia. This will be followed by voter registration, verification of registers by voters, to ensure that their correct particulars are reflected in the registers. The first time young voters must register as voters and turn up to vote. The young people must not allow politicians to continue telling them that ‘you are the future leaders’. Your future is now. Stand up and be counted. After candidates have been selected by political parties, the campaign field must be level and equal for all without exception,” stated Mwaanga.

“The vote count, vote verification, must be fully transparent and observed by representatives of political parties and civil society, to prevent possible vote tampering. We have had enough of disputed elections, which are a prescription for violence and instability . Let us have more transparency in our election process, by having it observed at each and every point. This will reassure the country and election participants of a fair process. As Zambians, we must have a shared vision for a free, fair and just society for all our people.”

Mwaanga also ulogised Grey Zulu.

“I learnt with a heavy heart, about the passing of Hon Alexander Grey Zulu, an icon of the freedom struggle and active participant in the building of Zambia as we know it today. He was a selfless leader, who dedicated his life to his country and people. He put his country first, which he served with dedication and high integrity. It is my fervent hope, that the new generation of politicians, will embrace and emulate the high political and moral standards, set by Hon Zulu and his generation, who worked tirelessly to put and keep our country peacefully together,” stated Mwaanga.