NEWLY-elected Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) president Felix Mutati says voters have the opportunity to put in place the change they want ahead of this year’s general election.

And Mutati has appealed to President Edgar Lungu to put human life ahead of politics by not allowing selective enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines.

Meanwhile, Mutati says the biggest challenge Zambia has is debt.

In his acceptance speech shortly after retaining the MDC presidency at the people’s national congress held at the party’s secretariat in Lusaka, Wednesday, Mutati said voters now had to make a decision on Zambia’s future at the crucial polls on August 12.

He cautioned registered voters that they would blame themselves for the next five years if they voted wrongly.

“To all the voters that have registered, this is their opportunity that you have got to put in place a change you want; the Zambia you want; the future you want; the leadership you want. Those answers are in your hands. Don’t blame anyone when you make a wrong choice. When you make that wrong choice, it will be with you for another five years and then you will be regretting! You will be asking yourself to say, ‘what are we going to do?’ Our bus drivers are suffering because somebody else is eating from their effort. In the markets, somebody is collecting something and making it difficult for marketeers. So, you have to decide whether that is what you define as a future. I ask you to define this as in the past. MDC is your party. MDC is your alternative,” Mutati said in remarks which were virtually followed by party delegates in all 10 provincial centres.

“As a country, we should not permit this country to be destroyed by despair regardless of the conditions of the economy. Despair should not take over from hope. We should also not permit that our new national culture must be relegated to political violence, intolerance and to caderism. We shouldn’t permit that, more so, when we go forward into the elections in August. We should also not permit the feeling amongst ourselves that it is going to be easy in this economy. It is time when we start that hard work that is required to repair the damage of this economy so that ordinary Zambians are able, once again, to send their child to school.”

And Mutati urged President Lungu to place human life over politics.

“It is time that we don’t allow selective enforcement guidelines associated to COVID. Let’s be clear. It’s not about leveling the political landscape. It is about human life, which cannot be substituted. So, my appeal to His Excellency is that, let’s place human life ahead of our politics. We can’t reclaim those who have died. So, it is time that the guidelines propagated must be followed, particularly by all political parties and that is the reason as MDC, we chose to abide by the guidelines and have our first congress on a virtual basis,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mutati, who previously served as finance minister in President Lungu’s government, observed that the country’s biggest challenge remained its huge debt stock, which had negatively impacted the exchange rate.

“We all know that the biggest challenge of this country is the state of the economy. So, what we should not do as a country is to invest so much of our capacity into making donations. What we should do is invest capacity in dealing and tackling economic problems. That is why capacity is required. We need to identify what is the central problem we got in this economy. And this is the animal called debt. Debt is influencing the foreign exchange rate; influencing inflation and it is influencing the price of everything. So, when you cannot buy tomatoes, know it’s because debt has influenced the exchange rate. When you cannot be able to make a bus fare, you should know that debt has influenced the foreign exchange rate and that is why you are not able to pay your fare. Government needs to identify the key priority sectors that can quickly generate foreign exchange in order to influence the exchange rate,” said Mutati.

“We know there is no other way to deal with this big issue apart from growing the economy, that is the only answer. And the only answer is to be able to identify what are those priority sectors that can quickly generate the foreign exchange that will require in order to begin to influence not only the capacity to pay the debt, but also to influence the exchange rate so that once more, someone can be able to buy tomatoes.”

And speaking earlier, GEARS executive director MacDonald Chipenzi, who was the returning officer at the showpiece event, said other political parties should emulate MDC for holding a peaceful elective meeting.

Mutati’s only contender for the party presidency, Elias Phiri, chickened out from the race at the last minute for unknown reasons.