THE five-year mandate that was given to the Patriotic Front leadership to govern comes to an end today. The power has shifted back to the people. Today you are the judge, boss and employer. Today, the powerful are powerless until you empower them again. Zambia is today giving you an opportunity to decide who is going to run our affairs for five years.

When we choose these leaders, we hand over the keys to our national treasures. It is not just the treasury or the Ministry of Finance that we entrust to those that we choose but it is all that we value as a people.

These leaders are our representatives. Yes they decide how to spend our money but they also decide what to do with all the other resources and treasures that we own as a people – as a country. They decide what to do with the copper that is underneath our soils. They also decide what to do with our forests and our waters. It is their duty to protect our collective interests but this is not always the case. We have all seen what happens when weak willed leaders decide to look after their own interests instead of national interests. Look at what has happened with the licensing for the Mukula trade. Our leaders have chosen look after their interests and forget the people. There are many examples of the greed of those that occupy public office that we could list but that is not the purpose of our discussion. Today, we want to remind our people that voting is important.

There are many people who shun their civic duty to vote because according to them, politics is nothing but a dirty game. Such people believe that voting does not make any difference. Dirty or not, this so called dirty game affects us in more ways than we can begin to list in this Editorial Opinion. And because politics affects us so fundamentally, we cannot afford to ignore it or approach it without seriousness. What we are doing today is one of the most important, if not the most important duty of every citizen who is of voting age. The leaders that we choose today are either going to make our country better or they will make it worse. There is a lot of focus on the Presidential election and for good reason. That office can be the difference between poverty or wealth for the nation. The presidency can either improve the health of the nation or destroy it. It also affects peace and harmony. Party cadres get their cue from the tone that a President sets. A lawless President breeds lawless party cadres. We have all seen what has happened in the last seven years under President Lungu. Cadres have put themselves above the law. The Police have been emasculated, weakened to the point where they appear scared of cadres. These are some of the issues that should occupy our minds as we choose leaders. What kind of country do we want? We have to be prepared to live with the choices that we make. If we refuse to participate or make reckless choices, we should not complain.

Elections are also very important for the maintenance of peace and unity in a multi party democracy. This is possible if the elections are considered free and fair. It is very difficult to say that this election is going to be free and fair because we have all seen that the playing field has been far from being a level field for all the players. President Lungu and his government functionaries have made sure that they have tilted the field in his favor. President Lungu and his Patriotic Front have been free to campaign where ever they wanted but they have shameless done all they could to block the opposition. The police have been used to physically block the opposition from entering certain towns. This behavior from the government makes it impossible to call this election free and fair.

But not all is lost. We can salvage something. This however depends on the Electoral Commission. They have not done enough to win public confidence but it is never too late to stand for what is right. The Electoral Commission must resolve to behave with the dignity and decorum that befits the job they are doing going forward.

Many of our people are afraid that this election could be rigged. The Statements from former President Ruphiah Banda has raised fears that this prospect may be real. There was also the statement from former Minister of Education in the PF Government Dr. John Phiri that bluntly warned President Lungu to resist the temptation to rig. These warnings are ominous.

The Electoral Commission can do much to assuage these fears by simply being transparent and thoroughly procedural. Running this election in the opaque way they run the 2016 election may doom our country. ECZ must release the result information as purely they are generated at the polling stations. Any secretiveness may be recipe for disaster. Don’t say we have not warned you.

Now let us all go out and vote.