Elections 2016: what are the issues at hand?

In about one months time, President Lungu will dissolve parliament and this will open wide the wheels of democracy in our beloved republic.

This is so because we shall again have the tripartite elections comprising the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.

Many citizens will be trying their lack at being elected to any one of those much sort for and esteemed public offices of our land.

This time the game will be different.

The election which we saw in the past have their rules changed. For example, in the presidential case, the simple majority makes you winner and that winner takes-all is over.

Now it has to be a strong majority of 50% plus 1 vote (not 1 %!). If you win the presidential race, you will have to share the spoils with your running mate, whom you cannot fire anyhow, unless under special circumstances defined in the new constitution. Secondly, all people vying for public office will have to prove that they are “educated” by producing a Grade 12 certificate, which has proved to be a big hurdle for some to jump!

Apart from these changed rules (there are many more), there have been changes in voters conception. Whilst the late President Sata taught the people the Donchi kubeba tactic, the voters have been using it rampantly as some of the voting that has been taking place has shown.

In my opinion, this is a positive change in the sense that the voters are now exercising their democratic right to vote in a free and fair manner because they are no longer under the influence of “presents” and false promises made by politicians in the past. What has come up is that voters are looking for “substance” in the political message from any candidate or political matter for that matter.

Whilst in a society, political expectations can vary from social class to social class, from age group to age group, from urban to rural areas and so on; there are still issues that are characteristic to a nation.

These are issues that cut across lines, whether age, gender, urban or rural, political affiliation, tribe or social status. With a new constitution in place and voters that are more knowledgeable, it is expected that this will be a tightly contested elections between presidential candidates and indeed, political parties. This contest will be on issues and not promises.

If you are promising, just know that in the next elections in 2021, you are out! People are no longer interested in promises, they are interested in actions.

These should be actions that will improve their standards of living (jobs, good and readily available health services, high quality education), bring them dignity locally and internationally and create conditions for the people to realise their personal and differentiated dreams in a peaceful and harmonious country called Zambia. The issues at hand are:

Firstly, the new government should be the one that MUST create jobs through the setting up of job-creating ventures and providing financial and technical support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Yes, let’s not despise or fear the participation of government in business. This time, it must be done in an efficient manner, mainly to act as the provider of the necessary capital that is not readily available to local businessmen due to poor monetary policy or poor business acumen by our local entrepreneurs.

The government should be able to facilitate for the setting up of these ventures and support for SMEs. During the campaign period, it will be up to each and every party or candidate to explain how they want to achieve this goal and the voters are expected to ask for realistic plans.

Secondly, the economy will be a major issue, if not the most important issue during the company. In this case, the economy should be understood as above all, the availability of essential resources (food, fuel, money in form of capital, knowledge for starting up and running businesses, infrastructure for economic development, low inflation rates, low interest rates and a strong kwacha).

Each candidate and party must explain to the public how they are going to handle these issues to the benefit of all the citizens. On the other hand, it is a known fact that citizens also must be able to sacrifice as realising some of these goals has a negative impact on society for some time.

This means that any party that forms government come August 2016, must enter into a social pact with the various stakeholders so as to put in place appropriate annual budgets that have to realise these goals. It is how these goals are realised would a party or candidate win the next election.

The third issue that voters must demand from the candidates in the upcoming election campaign is opportunity creation. In this case, we are looking at opportunities for the youth, women, urban poor and rural majority, to be able to realise their personal goals of improving their standards of living and be able to provide for them.

The issue here is that various members of society who are economically active claim to have had their chances of having access to business opportunities denied due to their political affiliation, age, and/or improperly connected in the decision- making circles of the country and so on.

Aspiring candidates should be made to explain how they are going to get rid of the terrible vices of corruption, nepotism, apathy, favouritism and sheer indifference, amongst those in authority in providing these opportunities.

This is so difficult that it requires change of mind set, application of the law with ruthlessness and up to final word. On the other, hand, it requires people to have confidence in their capabilities, abilities and possibilities, without looking for additional support.

The onus on the candidates will be to present their plans and strategies for making sure that opportunities are there and are awarded in a fair and transparent manner.

The fourth issue in the August 2016 tripartite election is national unity according to our national motto “One Zambia, One Nation”.

There is a heavy polarisation of society along tribal and/or ethnic lines. One can hear comments that this country can only be ruled by easterners and/or northerners or that party is only from southern province or some tribe on the Copperbelt has been left out in the process of sharing the national cake. This is highly misleading and divisive.

Voters should demand from the candidates how are they going to implement the old adage “United we stand, Divided we fall”? It is only as a united country where everybody is treated equally and fairly, are we going to realise the dreams of improving our standards of living and act as custodians of our country’s abundance resources for the benefit of our children, for future use according to the teachings of sustainable development.

This brings us to the fifth election campaign issue of the state of the future Zambia, especially during the period 2017 – 2025.

This is a very critical period for our country because of the past economic policies that were based of borrowing loans from both the local institutions (through the issuance of T-bills) and international financial institutions (foreign currency denominated loans).

Rough estimates suggest that the loan would be anywhere between US$7 – 9 billion, if you included the local loans.

This massive borrowing has brought the levels of debt in Zambia to levels that we cannot control.

At the same time, the borrower (namely the Zambian government) basically does not have enough reserves to be able to service or let alone pay back the loans.

I don’t need to remind the Zambians the consequences of this as we have seen in the past and what it takes to rebuild a nation destroyed by inflation and high debt levels.

Therefore, voters need to demand from the candidates what plans do they have for Zambia and especially, how do they plan to repay back these loans?

The sixth issue is the global position of Zambia. Zambia is endowed with massive natural resources and people with skills. Its history is rich with activities related to pan-Africanism and above all, the liberation of southern Africa.

The reader may wish to know at one time in its history, Zambia was the only independent African country bordering with other countries still under colonialism like Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

The major liberation movements coming from these countries were based in Zambia including the leadership of South Africa’s ANC, including their leader – the late Oliver Tambo.

But due to mediocrity, sheer lack of knowledge, inferiority complexes and the dire need to downplay President Kaunda’s role in the history of Africa, this has also had a negative impact on the global and regional position of our country. Voters should ask the candidates, how do they perceive Zambia’s role in global politics and above all in the region?

How can Zambia now benefit from the fact that all the surrounding countries are friendly to Zambia and live in peace?

Solutions can found in infrastructure development (roads, railways, telecommunications system, development of free ports, free trade zones, etc.) in the SADC framework and the development of tourism activities in Zambia based on its position and history.

To effectively, achieve this goal, it is imperative to again set-up Zambia Airways, but this time, it must work on efficiency and profitability terms.

These are just some of the major issues that need to be addressed by whoever comes into power in August 2016.

Political parties need to address some or all of these issues. On the other hand, voters must demand implementation and consequent accountability of the goals they promise.

The situation in Zambia is that everybody knows what the problem is and they know the solution to that problem. But nobody is ready to implement that already known solution.

The author is a financial analyst and management consultant with wide international experience in investment banking and economic policy analysis, where he has held positions of Chief Economist and Managing Partner. He has more 20 years academic experience as a lecturer of economics and various management courses in local and international academic institutions. He can be reached on rmbewe63@gmail.com. 

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