13 March 2013

Zambia: The Role of Opposition Parties

THE opposition political parties in the country is almost resting against a painful democratic metamorphosis in an attempt to provide checks and balances to the Patriotic Front (PF) administration.

Former UNIP Copperbelt provincial chairperson Levy Mwansa says the role of the opposition is to co-exist with PF politicians for development to be attained through assuming the position of checkmate to make Government account for its progressive policies being implemented.

Mr Mwansa says the role of the opposition should not be shooting down Government's progressive programmes and national policies aimed at alleviating the plight of ordinary Zambians.

"The opposition political parties should give the PF Government chance to govern the country. They should wait because democracy gives constitutional limits on governmental power. They should swallow their pride and team up to form a strong opposition if they have to remove the PF from power in 2016," he intones.

The inter-party rivalries among the opposition political parties were not good enough for the country, let alone further developing a formidable opposition to Government activities.

This is so, Mr Mwansa says, because the inter-party rivalries, among the opposition political parties, was only contributing to the weakening of the opposition but invariably continued to strengthen the ruling party.

He says Zambia was desperately in need of a strong and formidable opposition with the ability to compliment Government efforts to collectively foster sustainable national development.

"To me this should be the role of the opposition. And, people should strive to support and rally behind the opposition parties to make Government sit up and work to the expectations of the general population," he argues.

Mr Mwansa said it is retrogressive and sad that the country has continued to experience acrimonious relationship among politicians 49 years after the country attained independence.

This does not add value to the role of the opposition in the country.

Worse still, he contends that for the role of the opposition to be realised, there was fundamental need for politicians to exhibit maturity and refrain from undemocratic tendencies to attract confidence from the electorate in the overall governance system.

"Zambia risks skidding into anarchy and lose the respect it commands as an oasis of peace in Africa if politicians do not respect each other. In a democracy, respecting rights is not a choice that leaders make but it is the reason they govern," he counters.

To him, politicians, not armchair critics, should nurture institutions and practices that are democratic and conducive to democratic aspirations, as their cardinal role in the democratic dispensation.

Their political roles in society should not be the application of misplaced political power and national institutions to restrict freedom of assembly dispels and intimidates people with diverse views.

"The country should move forward and join the rest of the progressive and civilised world that have made democracy a norm where politicians are guided by principles of democracy and the rule of law," he says.

United Front Party (UFP) president Jackson Silumbwe says the role of the opposition was almost becoming a futile democratic exercise because most opposition parties are failing to participate in by-elections.

Mr Silumbwe argues, with a shade of defeat, most opposition political parties will continue to fail to participate in by-elections due to poor organisation and limited funds.

He says UFP and the majority of opposition parties failed to field parliamentary candidates in the recent Mpongwe and Livingstone by-elections because of limited funds and other supporting logistics to enable them carry out campaigns.

He bewails that there was need to revamp and re-organise opposition grass-root structures and improving strategies to attract and recruit more new members for the opposition political family to make meaningful contribution towards democracy which would make their societal roles unravel sagacity

"UFP and other opposition parties were facing financial constraints to enable them participate in the by-elections which defeats the role of the opposition in the country," he quips.

He said it was important for the opposition political movement in the country to be adequately funded to actively engage in activities that would add value to the democratic processes taking place in the country.

"As a party, we do not want to use a bicycle as a mode of transport during the campaigns. We intend to start raising money to sustain our operations through various fundraising ventures," he said.

He said this would facilitate the process of ensuring checks and balances are provided to all issues related to management of national affairs and facilitate Government was held accountable for its actions of public interest.

And sad enough, UFP, which was formed in 1992, has managed to attract less than 100 registered members! This qualifies the party's intention to aggressively conduct door-to-door recruitment of new members in Kitwe District before spreading to other parts of the country.

Finnish Ambassador to Zambia Pertti Anttinen says the way of doing politics in Zambia seems to be different from the political culture in Finland.

In Finland, there is a long tradition of coalition governments and parties have gained experience of being in and out of the Government, respectively.

Mr Anttinen, however, recoils that the role of the opposition, through active participation in deliberations in Parliament, remained beneficial to members of the public.

He said the opposition can provide as one of the stakeholders an important element to the decision making process or legislative work in the country as much as they proposed what was considered as constructive criticism when the need arose.

"The opposition have their own policy, goals and objectives. They have different political views and they must be allowed to hold their views. We must respect this and that was why people have choices when they vote," he recollects.

He says that it would be the worst form of fallacy for one to expect the opposition assume the complacent role, arguing that they have the duty to be critical as they propose their own views in the form of contributing to the national development agenda.

"The democratic principle, like in Finland, is to appreciate different views," he says.

Ms Jean Kapata, who is chairperson for health in PF Central Committee, simply puts it that the role of the opposition was to provide checks and balances to the Government in power.

Then Ms Kapata, who was campaign managers in the Mufumbwe and Mpongwe by-elections, lashes at the opposition for pretending to play their rightful in society, arguing: "It is sad you have an opposition which is told that something is white and tell you that it is black!"

She bemoans that the opposition was failing to provide constructive criticism to Government activities considering that momentous achievements scored by the PF administration were not acknowledged at the expense of petty politicking.

"I advise the opposition to wake up (perhaps from the political slumber!). They are obsessed with the intention to go to State House," she contends.

She goes to warn the opposition, if they fail in their noble responsibilities to offer checks and balances, that the PF was on the path of making more political inroads in all areas where there was limited representation of the ruling party.

Watch the political rythme if you are in the opposition driving seat.

Howard Kunda, Muchinga UNIP Member of Parliament, believes that as a legislator representing opposition, he was charged with the political responsibility to articulate national issues that puts Government's public actions on check.

"I am there to provide checks and balances to Government so that the country can be ruled properly. Otherwise, Government will do things in its own way without effective participation of the opposition in the democratic process," Mr Kunda argues.

In the words of the lawmaker, the opposition is a healthy thing if it fulfills its role in a democracy. Without an effective opposition, Government will go astray.

"Government will always want to be seen talking ill about the opposition. An effective opposition will enable Government to be on its toes. As opposition, we are providing checks and balances if you acknowledge the well-informed debates in Parliament. We are trying by all means to tell Government where it goes wrong.

"We give them (Government) support where they do the right thing but when they are wrong we are on them," he quips.

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