WHOEVER wins Zambia’s presidential election must be allowed to be sworn- in peacefully following the results of the August 12 general election, says US Embassy in Zambia interim Chargé d’Affaires David Young.

And Chargé d’Affaires Young says a free press remains essential during and after a hotly-contested election campaign to effectively apply checks and balances on all arms of government during the electoral process.

Meanwhile, Young says Zambia will receive a substantive ambassador this year.

When asked if he was hopeful if Zambia could achieve a peaceful transfer of power following this year’s general election given the country’s past track record, Young expressed optimism this was possible, but urged all participants at this year’s forthcoming general election to respect the outcome and allow for a peaceful swearing-in of the eventual winner.

The veteran US diplomat was reflecting on key lessons learnt arising from the hotly-contested and disputed US presidential election, which saw President Joe Biden elected and subsequently sworn-into office in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.

President Biden was inaugurated amid unprecedented tight security at the US Capitol following the deadly insurrection that rocked Congress a fortnight ago.

“What I would say is that, Zambia has a very impressive tradition of peaceful transfers of power, like you say, and that support for the democratic traditions is so critical to your strength as democracy, just like ours, we’re the same in that regard. I believe in Zambia and I believe my friends in the government, and I believe my friends in opposition are committed to that principle. So, I am hopeful that there will be support for that. But, again, when campaigns are very tough and contested and hard, there’s temptations on certain people; we saw that in America. But it’s so important that you hold to that principle that whoever wins that they be allowed to be sworn-in in August,” Young told News Diggers! in an interview in Lusaka, Thursday.

“The United States, we do not take sides, we support democracy, free and fair elections, and no matter who wins, we will support the winner and the Zambian people.”

Asked what key lessons African democracies such as Zambia’s could learn from the chaotic US presidential election, Young observed that there was need to empower local government-level officials to uphold the integrity of the electoral process.

In the aftermath of the disputed November 3 presidential election, former president Trump repeatedly pressured state-level officials, notably in the US state of Georgia, to “find 11,000 votes” in a brazen but failed attempt to overturn President Biden’s win in that state.

“I thought about this a lot, it’s a very good question. For me, it comes down to those things I mentioned earlier, which is that, it is critical to have strong institutions and to strengthen our institutions; whether it’s the electoral bodies, courts, law enforcement, to have them be accountable, transparent, credible and respected. Ultimately, that’s what’s pulled us through: the strong institutions. I would say, the empowering government officials at all levels,” he replied.

“There were people at precinct-levels, local-level, who were counting votes; they were allowed to do their job and they were empowered and showed great integrity. So, President Biden has talked about how it’s the responsibility of all Americans to stand up for our values and democracy. It’s not just about the leaders, it’s about all citizens. And so, all citizens in Africa and around the world need to take that responsibility, that’s your right as citizens. So, those are two lessons.”

And Young, a former journalist, said that a free press remained essential during and after a hotly-contested election to effectively apply checks and balances on all arms of government during the electoral process.

“…The other thing I would say that is so important that we learned is the critical importance of a free press because if we had not had the robust debates and coverage, fair comment and criticism from the press of all backgrounds…Just think of, for example, if you didn’t have CNN giving the good debates and the criticisms of both sides, our democracy would have suffered badly,” he observed.

“I think the lesson about freedom of the press for me is really important in both traditional media and legitimate social media. People cannot take the lesson that all social media is bad, that would be a mistake. Social media can incite people to violence, but social media can be positive as long it’s not violent and destructive. Lastly, I would say the issue we’ve experienced of bi-partisan support of leaders, former presidents, senior leaders.”

Young also said Trump would face a possible ban from running for public office if convicted in the Senate.

The disgraced former US leader was impeached earlier this month for a record second time and now faces a looming trial in the Senate where his former Republican allies, including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, have signalled a vote to convict him for inciting the riotous mob, who besieged the deadly storming of the US Capitol on January 6.

Speaking when he featured on Hot FM’s Red Hot Breakfast radio programme, Thursday, Young regretted the deadly incident, but added that President Biden’s inauguration represented a “new start.”

“We are a country of laws and processes and institutions and even though one person may say, ‘they have been defrauded,’ they have to put the evidence forward and go to court and then it is proven not to be true. And so our President Biden and Vice-President (Kamala) Harris won a decisive election and they were inaugurated yesterday (Wednesday). It is a new start, it is a breath of fresh air. We are dealing with a lot of challenges in the United States with COVID, the economy, with racial and justice, with climate change like the whole world is but now we have a return to normality, return to decency, if I may say to be quite honest,” Young said.

“What happened on January 6 when the attacks happened, the evasion of the US capitol was tragic. It was a terrible thing, five people lost their lives. But I think what yesterday (Wednesday’s inauguration) shows is that our democracy is strong, our institutions are strong and then we can go forward and continue improving and strengthening our country. President Trump did something that a president has never done in our 243 years of our history and he basically incited a mob and now he is being impeached by our House of Representatives and he will go to trial and the Senate. Even though he has left the Presidency and if he is found guilty, then he will be barred forever to run for any office, including president; he will not be able to run again in four years. So, I think what this shows is that no one is above the law, even the President. We don’t have a king, we don’t have a royalty or ‘lifetime president.’ ”

He also hailed President Biden’s inauguration as a “breath of fresh air.”

“For me, personally and our country, we will talk about humility more than you have heard in the last four years. I think I have often said when I have talked to His Excellency (President Edgar Lungu), opposition leaders, some ministers and civil society here in Zambia that we are not perfect and we have never been perfect , no country is. And I think that it is important that we all say as fellow democracies that we strive for higher ideals of democracy and human rights, but no one ever meets those ideals completely. We have to always strive, work hard and struggle everyday to be better,” he said.

“I will be honest with you, the US, right now, has very serious problems at home and we have lost by far more people to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have lost 400,000 lives in the US, we have a terrible economic impact from COVID. We have racial injustice, but the thing that is different now is that we now have a president who acknowledges these problems and he says we have to go forward on these things, we have to work with the world to fight climate change. President Trump denied that climate change was a problem; he denied the racial injustice was a reality; he didn’t talk about the need to wear masks. For me, I think as an American and a person representing my country, my country’s ideals of the American people overseas, I feel that this is a breath of fresh air! It is a rebirth of freedom for our country.”

Meanwhile, the US Envoy also announced that a substantive Ambassador to Zambia would be arriving into the country this year.

“Our bilateral relations right now between our two countries is as good as it has ever been. We have extensive cooperation and we have strengthened the relations dramatically over the past year and it is something that I am very proud of. That our whole team of 450 Americans and Zambians at the Embassy have worked to build partnerships with the Zambian government. You are probably aware we gave US $500 billion, which is about K10 billion every year in health cooperation to fight HIV/AIDS, COVID, working on education, trade and other issues and the way we work together is very deep and broad it is continuing on and I think under the Biden administration, it is even going to get deeper. So, I think it is an exciting time you know when (former) Ambassador {Daniel} Foote left (in December, 2019), I was asked to come back to Zambia because I had served here before. I don’t have the rank of an Ambassador, but sometime this year, there will be a formal Ambassador coming to Zambia,” said Young.