PARTY of National Unity and Progress (PNUP) leader Highvie Hamududu, says political parties that don’t take part in general elections should be deregistered. The former UPND Bweengwa constituency member of parliament says the goal of any political party should be to form government, and wondered how else that could be achieved without participation in elections.
Mr Hamududu wondered why people formed political parties to make noise across the country but shy away from participating in elections. He said registering a political party and not participate in elections was like registering a company and putting the certificate of registering under the pillow. The opposition leader also went further to suggest that the Constitution should be amended to get rid of by-elections, which he said were taking a toll on the government treasury.
Both suggestions that the former lawmaker is making are worth notational debate. We agree with him on the proposal to prevent unnecessary by-elections, but we have an opposing view on deregistering dormant political parties. It is not the first time that we are hearing a proposal for banning political parties that do not take part in general elections. But in our view, people who hold that view are either selfish or lack the understanding of democracy.
The questions that need to be answered by proponents of this idea are as follows. What mischief are they trying to cure? What crime is being committed by political parties that do not take part in general elections? Are those political parties funded by the State, where you would say it’s a waste of public funds? What is wrong with making political noise? Is that not the very essence of freedom of speech and expression?
If Mr Hamududu is talking about political party leaders who disappear after elections and only resurface when general elections draw near, we understand. Such leaders are opportunists and they are in politics to eat donor funds and to offer themselves for sale to the highest bidders. But shameful as that is, it is wrong to suggest that their political parties must be deregistered. That would be stamping on their rights.
This is where our leaders miss it. Political leadership doesn’t mean being in State House or having a ministerial office and signing government contracts and giving orders to civil servants. It is very possible for a group of people to contribute immensely to a country’s governance system even without forming government or taking part in elections.
If anything, a vibrant opposition is as good as an efficient government, if not better. Forming a political movement should not only be for the sole purpose of forming government. Yes, eventually, it inevitably culminates into that objective, but there is nothing wrong in getting involved in politics to provide checks and balances and to speak for the voiceless.
We would like to argue that the responsibility of changing government is not bestowed on any political party, but the people who desire to be governed differently. When citizens feel the existing government is too corrupt, oppressive and failing to uphold the promises it made before it was voted into office, it becomes their duty to take it down.
The people of Zambia have always been yearning for a much stronger voice, a voice that will point to the issues affecting them, and mounting actionable pressure on those elected to provide public service to perform their duties. This voice can be from a political party that has absconded generals elections for financial reasons or otherwise. You cannot say only those rich political parties must be allowed to exist, that is not democracy.
The next suggestion that Mr Hamududu makes about getting rid of by-elections sounds prudent and we love it. It is true that by-election in the country are a major strain on the government treasury. There is very little benefit that the nation gets from the costly by-elections. How can we have a constituency that is in dire need of a hospital receive millions of kwacha from the treasury only to serve the purpose of holding a by-election? It does not make sense.
Our people in rural constituencies don’t have access to clean drinking water, they don’t have access to health facilities and the health facilities do not have medicines. Children walk long distances to schools. The government says there is no money to resolve those challenges. But when an MP dies or defects, within just three months, millions are poured in to hold a by-election; for the people to elect another absentee MP. Does that make sense?
Mr Hamududu has a point. We do not see anything wrong with a law that dictates that if a member of parliament dies or defects, the party should simply hold a primary election and send its preferred member as a replacement in the National Assembly. This can also help in preventing treachery, where members of parliament cross the floor when they are lured by a carrot from another party, only to cause an unnecessary by election. Zambia simply doesn’t have the luxury of holding all these parliamentary and local government by-elections. On this point, we agree with Mr Hamududu.