By GERSHOM NDHLOVU
Granted, the current Zambian constitution gives the President the prerogative to announce an election date in an election year. However, going by the history of the nation, this prerogative has been taken to ridiculous levels by the presidents that have led Zambia at one time or another.
Zambia’s presidents keep the date so secretively it is almost treasonous to even speculate on it. It appears, especially in the multi-party dispensation of the last 20 years, an incumbent president wants to keep his opponents in the dark and spring the date as a surprise when the ruling party, in this case the MMD, has put its logistics in place.
As the nation hurtles towards the 2011 elections, everyone except the president and perhaps his closest circle of advisors, are just speculating on the date. For opposition parties that want to start campaigning are being told it is illegal to do so while the ruling party’s candidate and head of state, Rupiah Banda has been in campaigning mode since the elections that brought him into office in October of 2008.
In advanced democracies such as America, presidential elections are held on a fixed date every four years such that it is easy for all the players to prepare for elections years in advance. In the UK, while elections can be called at any time, the usual time table is that elections, local government or parliamentary elections, and this year a referendum, are held at the beginning of May.
But even as the constitution stipulates in the Zambian case, there could and in fact there should be an administrative arrangement where an election date is “fixed” say at the end of October when historically most of the national elections have been held before.
The MMD, PF, UPND, NAREP, other political parties and, most importantly, the citizens who constitute the electorate, are important players in the electoral process who should have an idea about what is going on at every stage. This does not in any way make the president who announces the date any more important than all these entities and citizens. This is the more reason who should, by the beginning of the year, indicate when polls would take place in an election year.
The argument that the delay to announce the poll date is to allow the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to put logistics in place for “ smooth” polls does not hold water because the commission has five years from one election to another, save for occasional by-elections that occur in between.
It is these deliberate hurdles that lead to perpetual accusations of rigging of elections by both opposition parties and voters. There is absolute need to curtail such presidential excesses even in such otherwise straightforward matters when the Constitution comes up for review again. So do us a favour Mr President, announce the election date now!