THE Electoral Commission of Zambia has advised all political parties to avoid holding public rallies. According to the Commission, public rallies are super spreaders, and therefore, allowing political parties to gather their supporters for campaign rallies will only escalate the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
On paper, this looks like a reasonable thing to do, and in fact, we agree that public gatherings such as political rallies would reverse all the gains made in stopping the spread of deadly pandemic. As advocates of public health guidelines, we are happy that institutions such as ECZ share the same concerns we have about this virus. This is the message that we have been emphasising in our various editorial opinions in the past.
Zambia does not have the capacity nor the resources to contain the spread of this virus. We have already lost a lot of people to this virus because of carelessness and lack of adherence to public health guidelines. A life lost is one too many and we must not allow this virus to take our beloved ones simply because of politics. The dreaded campaign period is finally here and unlike many other years when people were free to mingle and conduct their political activities however they wished, this time around, there is more than just the public order Act. There is the Covid-29 pandemic, and it is important for stakeholders to listen to the advice that is being given by health experts and the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
But that has been said, there is something that we do not like about the directive that the Electoral Commission of Zambia is giving to stakeholders. In our view, this directive will work against the opposition political parties for one reason. As it has always been, while everybody else is stopped from moving, President Edgar Lungu hits the road.
As head of State, there is nothing, there is no one who can stop him from traversing this country and conducting his campaigns. The problem we have with the directive that the Electoral Commission is giving to political stakeholders is that they are not providing guidance on how President Lungu should conduct his Executive duties during this campaign period.
President Lungu is not immune to Covid-19 and neither are his supporters. So this rule should also apply to the President. To simply say political parties should not conduct campaigns is not enough. Our worry is that while others will be holding door to door meetings with a few people only during the campaign, President Lungu will be gathering en masse to campaign, and spreading the Covid-19 virus without anyone stopping them.
How will the President who will not vacate office during this campaign period be managed? Who will regulate his activities? Who will stop the President from gathering tens of thousands of people for campaigns. We find it unfair that one political party should campaign at the expense of another. It is unfair to give this directive without outlining the measures that will guide the Executive.
We already heard from State House where the President’s spokesperson announced to the whole country that “the President cannot stop touring ‘developmental’ projects around the country, just because of Covid-19”. We have also heard from the same State House that “we cannot block people who gather to meet the president”.
What does this mean? It means a directive that there should be no campaign rallies will only hinder the freedom of the opposition political parties to conduct their campaign activities. It is an unfair decision and it needs to be revisited.
We are also worried that this directive may give the police powers to disperse opposition political party gatherings while leaving the ruling party to conduct its political activities without any interference at all. This, if not handled properly, will be a source of violence. People will not accept to be stopped from conducting their political activities while their rivals in the ruling party are doing so without anyone stopping them.
We strongly advise those who came up with this decision to go back to the drawing and think about how campaigns can be conducted peacefully with a levelled playing field.