STATE House says President Edgar Lungu does not need to take part in a Presidential debate to persuade people to vote for him. According to the President’s spokesperson, presidential election debates are not constitutional, and as such, are not necessary for a leader who is already in charge of government. He says debates are for opposition leaders who need an opportunity to appear on TV.

Isaac CHIPAMPE: “I think there is no time for Presidential debates. Presidential debates are not even in our Constitution. So, it is just those who want to appear on TV to debate [that] can appear, nobody will stop them. But as far as Presidential debates are concerned, they are not in the Constitution to force anyone to do them. Each Presidential candidate I am sure has his or her own strategy on how they want to convince or persuade the Zambian people to vote for them. I think for those who are not in government, maybe it is an opportunity for them. But for President Lungu, people can see what he has done. He doesn’t need to persuade people through Presidential debates, people can see how he has developed this country in the shortest period of time. So, he doesn’t need a Presidential debate.”

Mr Chipampe is right, when he says presidential debates are not mandated by the Constitution. But if everything that we must do is supposed to be stipulated in the Constitution, then this country can become ungovernable. We do not think that the Constitution is there to dictate human behavior. In fact, there are many governance rules that are clearly stipulated in the same Constitution which this same president has refused to obey.

This is a president who was not sworn in by the Chief Justice or the Deputy, this is a president who refused to hand over power to the Speaker during the presidential election petition in 2016, this a president who ordered ministers to stay in office after dissolution of Parliament. All these acts were against the Constitution. So State House should not use the Constitution only when it suits them.

The second point that is worth discussion is the purpose of a presidential debates. We believe that State House is missing the point when they say president Lungu doesn’t need debates to convince the people to vote for him. Our understanding of the reasoning behind presidential debates is to demonstrate to citizens that you understand the issues that affect them and you can articulate solutions.

When we call for debates, we want you to tell us who you are and why you think you are a suitable person to be the president of of this country. It’s a day when you must show that you have read your own manifesto and you can explain the policies contained therein. People expect you to explain what you would do for the people if you are given a chance to govern. Even if it is a lie, the people just want to hear you engage in constructive debate with other leaders who are vying for the same position.

If President Lungu has performed wonders in the shortest possible time as Mr Chipampe claims, this is where he should go to shine. The fact that he is not willing, it means trouble because he is the only candidate who has an advantage when it comes to debating. He understands what running a government is. He has insight of what has really caused the state of the economy and he can pose some good questions to his challengers.

This is an opportunity for the incumbent to come out with data and say ‘what you are proposing is nonsense and it can’t work for the following reasons’. It is the opposition who should run away from the debate, not the other way round. And we find it strange to hear State House say debates are for the opposition and not a sitting President. Mr Lungu is not going into this election as a Head of State, he is going in it as a candidates, like any other.

The reason why Mr Lungu is in State House right now is because the Constitution designed it that there must not be a power vaccume in-between elections. Otherwise, his presidential mandate technically expired at the same time as the National Assembly. Simply put, Mr Lungu is a caretaker president with limited powers. This is the reason why an institution has gone to court to challenge him for signing a Bill into law after parliament was dissolved.

So we find it laughable and cowardly, frankly speaking, to hear State House say that debates are for the opposition, as if Mr Lungu is a special candidate who should have an advantage over others. But this now explains why we don’t have national addresses. This is why we don’t have press conferences because the person in State House is simply scared of facing the people and talking to them. But how can you govern the people that you are not comfortable talking to? How can you respect opposition leaders who you are afraid to debate with?

Sadly, we must say, this is why people say Mr Lungu is an accidental President. It looks like he is a man who does not even enjoy being President, because those are things that people who enjoy their jobs do. But it’s like Mr Lungu enjoys the perks, but not the job.