We have seen the jubilation in the PF camp after the Constitutional Court upheld the election of Munali member of parliament Honourable Prof Nkandu Luo. It has to be stated that although we raise no eyebrows over this outcome, it is a judgment that does not change the facts around what transpired during the campaigns in Munali, and neither does it speak to the challenges confronting our politics and governance. It does not change the rising levels of intolerance and political violence in Zambia. It in fact demonstrates that the country’s judicial and constitutional reforms have not helped to entrench and affirm good governance and the rule of law.
How did we get here? How did we get to a point where political competition is so intense that it’s now a matter of life and death and not a competition to serve? How did we get to this point where evidence doesn’t matter much in a court of law? Why are the stakes so high in Zambian politics? It is simply because politics seems to be the shortcut to wealth. It is because there is no “loss” in the ruling party’s dictionary; it’s a word they can never accept to hear.
But we have to be fair to Prof Luo. In fact, we admire her academic credentials and we have always held the view that she would have served the country a lot better in her professional field than in politics, but who are we to question her career choices?
Our point is that Prof Luo is not the problem, it’s the system she serves under that is. A system that does not respect tenets of good governance. A system that is riddled by corruption and lack of foresight for the best interests of the country, and for the generations to come. We repeat, Luo is not the problem in Munali, but this system which she is part of; which she has helped to shape, grow and nurture.
The people of Munali have nothing to gain or lose from this judgment. If anything, the people of Munali know better not to expect that a by-election would do anything to improve their lives. At least, if they are angry enough to seek and effect meaningful change in that political office, they know their best prospects lie in 2021. That is the chance they have to overhaul the system and not changing an MP under the same rotten system.
What do we find wrong with this judgment that has secured Prof Luo’s continued stay in Parliament and at the helm of the Ministry of Higher Education?
Well, to start with, the video which formed part of the evidence in this petition matter is heart breaking. In this era of human rights and after so many decades of existence as a democratic state, such barbaric scenes of violence must never be heard of. We feel the court, most certainly missed an opportunity to punish perpetrators of political violence. And this being the final court of appeal in that regard, it has effectively set a bad precedent for the future and will not achieve the purpose of deterring would be offenders.
We are not exactly worried that Luo has the protection of the court to hold on to her parliamentary seat, we are worried about the Constitutional Court because this is the new lifeline of the Judiciary in Zambia; it is the new face of the law! Sadly, this is a court that has discredited itself in the eyes of the public due to its controversial judgments. No one can save the face of the judiciary but itself, so far the ConCourt is creating a villain out of itself.
Second problem we have with this judgment is the delay. We reflect on Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa’s recent query on the election appeal cases whereby he observed that given that there were relatively few cases before it, what could have been the logical explanation for the delay by the Constitutional Court to determine the election appeal cases involving Margaret Mwanakatwe, the Lusaka Central Patriotic Front Member of Parliament and Prof Luo?
As Sishuwa explained the first possible explanation for the delays in concluding these parliamentary election appeal cases is a consequence of the weaknesses of the existing law. While the Constitution requires the High Court to ‘hear’ and presumably determine a properly filed petition against an elected MP within 90 days, it does not provide for a specific timeframe within which a subsequent appeal to the ConCourt must be decided. This is an institutional loophole that some judges may take advantage of to delay deciding appeal cases. This is a lacuna that should be rectified urgently because it potentially undermines the efficient administration of justice and enables judges that are susceptible to political and financial influence to hide behind its ambiguity.
As Sishuwa predicted, there is no doubt that the more plausible explanation behind the delays in disposing of the appeal cases is that this is a conscious political strategy that has been adopted by the ruling authorities. This strategy is one of pressuring the courts to make constant adjournments to the cases to avoid holding any parliamentary by-election in urban constituencies of Lusaka for fear of losing to the opposition. We can say the same about the unexplained delay for the ConCourt to set a date and deliver ruling in the matter where President Lungu’s wish to stand again in 2021 is being challenged.
We have noticed that there are some citizens who still think that the ConCourt can pull a surprise on President Lungu. These are citizens who have consulted legal experts, and they have been assured that the law is very clear on President Lungu’s third term bid. We have heard the same legal opinions, but we are not gullible. In fact, we feel it’s unfair for the Constitution Court continue keeping people’s false hopes high. Let them call the case and declare Mr Lungu too, so that we get done with it.