It is heartening that the Commonwealth Team , led by Prof Ibrahim Gambari , an accomplished African Diplomat, has arrived in the country to start the much anticipated dialogue between President Edgar Lungu and UPND Leader Mr Hakainde Hichilema. This process of dialogue should draw on the experiences and work already undertaken by the Catholic Bishops as well as other church groups. The diplomats accredited to Zambia and other Civil Society Organisations have a lot to input into this process.
The Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland QC , complemented by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo , did well to secure the release of UPND leader Hichilema and others from incaceration and to get a firm commitment from the two men, that they would sit down and talk about all the contentious issues which led to tension in the country, after the disputed elections of August, 2016 . The tension, was exacerbated by the failure of the newly created Constitutional Court , to hear the petition brought before it by Mr Hichilema and his running mate Mr Geoffrey Mwamba, after promising to do so.
Historically, Zambian political parties have always embraced dialogue since the country returned to multiparty politics in October, 1991 . Three months after the MMD overwhelmingly won the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, they initiated dialogue with other opposition parties, which was later institutionalised with the help of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy , which culminated in the creation of the Zambia Centre for Inter Party Dialogue (ZCID). Meetings involving all political parties were held regularly at the Centre and at times , at the level of party presidents. These meetings were largely, but not exclusively initiated by the party in government. Nothing was excluded from the agenda and these meetings and they helped in no small measure, to resolve many constitutional, political and electoral issues , which in turn earned the country much needed peace. This situation changed in 2011 when the PF got into government, because they appeared disinterested in political dialogue with other parties and the ZCID has been virtually moribund since then.
This removed an important forum for political party leaders to talk to each other in person , as opposed to talking at each other fueled by the media, who were more than eager to come up with sensational headlines, which helped sell their newpapers.
As a way forward , the time has come to do the following in our country among others:
1. All political parties should re-commit to dialogue through ZCID .
2. President Lungu and Mr Hichilema , should discuss the following
(a) zero tolerance to violence by their members and supporters before , during and after general elections and by-elections
(b) amendments of the public order act to creat a level playing for all political parties in the country
(c) respect constitutionalism and the rule of law at all times.
3. Reconstitution of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) in light of its failures observed in the last general elections of August 2016. This should include:
(a) making personnel changes and the selection of other temporary staff involved in the conduct of elections.
(b) counting procedures at polling stations and tallying of election results before they are sent to the national centre
(c) looking at the implementation of the Electoral Reforms Technical Committee (ERTC) report
4. Reconstitution of the Constitutional Court , which must include amendments to the law so that there are minimum qualifications for Judges eligible to sit on this important court. For example , Judges on this court, must have served as High Court or Supreme Court Judges for a minimum period of five years. Decisions of this court are not appellable before any other court and it is risky and dangerous to have no bench experience for men and women appointed to this important court. This would have the added advantage of giving confidence to petitioners who go before it.
5. The question of recognition of the last election results should also be put on the agenda for discussion. So is the issue of the inability of the Constitutional Court to hear the Presidential petition , after promising to do so and the remedy to be proposed.
6. Reforms of the Police Service, so that there is a guarantee of equality before the law for all Zambians.