It was only ten days ago that The Standard published an article about the Zambian elections under the headline, ‘President Banda flies high in campaigns for re-election’, that had first appeared in South African newspaper’s Mail & Guardian online edition. Banda’s campaign was ‘modern’, ‘well resourced’ and ‘slickly executed’, wrote the author Sean Christie and the man himself had a ‘benevolent mien’, was ‘genial’ and a ‘real charmer’. Christie was traveling ‘with’ President Banda’s campaign team in more ways than one it seemed.
The same page of The Standard also carried a report headlined ‘Zambia’s Banda expects to win in Tuesday vote’, indeed, the first paragraph of the report state, Banda’s MMD Party expected to ‘score an easy victory’.
Well Banda would be confident (they always are) and so would his party. They had massively out-spent their opponents, used state resources to the full and controlled the state media. They would have to say they were going to win, they probably believed it. How could they not win? But he and they didn’t. Banda lost the election by some 200,000 votes to his opponent Michael Sata, also known as the “King Cobra” due to his sharp tongue.
The results were delayed and not published in the time set under the election regulations. There were accusations that the governing party were trying to rig the result. Riots flared up. You know, the usual. But fortunately a result seen as fair by all was eventually announced.
So another election is over but there are plenty more in the offing.
In Russia, President Medvedev has declared that Prime Minister Vladamir Putin should stand as a presidential candidate in the next elections (what a surprise). In the United States, President Barrack Obama has warned voters against letting the Republicans win the presidential election in November 2012. And in France President Sarkozy is running a little scared following socialist triumphs in recent elections.
KENYA’S ELECTIONS: DON’T MENTION POLICIES
As Kenyans are only too well aware, we are only a year or so from the next presidential and parliamentary elections (we still don’t know the date on which they will be held) and election campaigning, or at least maneuvering, is well under way. Not that it has really stopped since the last election.
Kenyan pre-election campaigns are all about who will ally with whom, putting together a coalition of regional voting blocs, and who is doing what to whom. Policies, i.e., what the politicians plan to do if given power, are few and far between, if non-existent.
‘Raila takes time to woo back the Kalenjin support’, ‘Raila, Ruto to hold rally on Coast’, ‘Saitoti enters the ring’, ‘Will Karua have breakfast with Kenneth?’ (OK, we made that one up), are the sort of daily headlines seen in Kenyan newspapers. No one seems to ask about policies, least of all the Kenyan media. And so the whole awful process goes on, a sickening concoction of very little substance topped by a lot of froth.
The recent Zambian election has several lessons for us, particularly if Kenya is to avoid the horrors of post-election violence. The subject was touched upon in The Standard’s ‘Opinion’ editorial on September 24. To summarise: the election should, of course, be free and fair but just as importantly it must be seen to be free and fair, so transparency in the electoral process is vital. And the true election result must be declared in the allotted time.
The Standard’s editorial was right when it declared: ‘When suspicion characterizes elections that are held on a not-very-transparent manner, the stage is set for eruption of violence’.
The Forum would add, however, one other factor for consideration: the need for responsible campaigning.
There is already evidence on the Internet of a campaign developing based on the message, “We will win if the other side doesn’t steal the election”. This tactic was seen at the last election and was one of the causes of developing tension that led to such catastrophic violent results. It should stop, now.
P.S. How many people noticed that the first person to visit the new President of Zambia to congratulate him was the Chinese Ambassador? It was a small but very significant event illustrating the shifting balance of power in Sub-Saharan Africa.