Statement by Dr Vernon J Mwaanga on President Edgar C Lungu’s Address to Parliament on Friday 15th September,2017.
President Edgar Lungu’s address to Parliament last Friday may have largely contained more of what we have heard before, but there are a number of new aspects which were important and significant.
He shook hands with opposition party members of parliament and some former members of his party , who are critical of him personally and of his administration, in what appeared to be a friendly gesture.
In matters of state or political relations, a smiling handshake speaks much louder than any written words . This is the kind of human relations Zambia needs at this time as we try to treat and heal wounds of deep divisions caused by divisive elections and a flawed judicial system which left bitterness and tension in our country.
The announcement that there will consultations with other stakeholders on governance issues and on a new constitution are welcome and will go a long way towards creating minimum conditions of mutual trust between and among our politicians, which are absolutely necessary in a democratic society.
Our political leaders must learn the humility and efficacy of talking to each other and not at each other through the media.
I would have preferred to see an african dialogue process at a higher level between President Lungu and the main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, but the reality is that there was no credible or serious african peace initiative on the table.
The Commonwealth moved in and negotiated a dialogue process , which led to the release from prison of UPND President Hakainde Hichilema and is now being headed by a distinguished african diplomat Prof Ibrahim Gambari, who has just completed his first round of talks and inclusive consultations.
From what he is reported to have said, this process will be painfully slow and could only start in December,2017. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Catholic Bishops lead by Archbishop Telesphor Mpundu deserve praise and gratitute for the work they did.
There are a lot of urgent and pressing issues, which require serious attention, such as police reforms; judicial reforms and reconstitution of the Constitutional Court ; Reconstitution of the Electoral Commission and implementation of recommendations of the recommendations of the Electoral Reforms Technical Committee to make our electoral process more open and transparent ; Further amendments to the Constitution to include additional special seats for women in the National Assembly and in local councils with a view to moving closer to gender equality; Giving autonomy to the National Assembly to elect its own presiding officers and not to rely on executive nominations.
This should include minimum qualifications for the Speaker to have served as a member of the national assembly for a minimum of 5 years. A mandatory requirement for oversight committees of the national assembly to be chaired by opposition members as is the practice in other commonwealth countries; further amendments to the public order act to insure that it is applied fairly and equally to all political political parties before, during and after elections; a recommitment to resolving election disputes through a credible court process and not the streets; corruption issues. This list is by no means inclusive, but merely indicative.
Political leaders at all levels must refrain from making incindiary or hate speeches against others and leaders of all political parties must be seen to be punishing those who do so.
The media, must also play its part by refraining from making inflamatory, irresponsible and insulting statements against other political leaders . The state print and electronic media which is owned by all taxpayers, must play an examplary role by making sure that they dont just give publicity to ruling party and government officials, but also to those in the opposition, so that all views are heard.
The country must move to created conditions of zero tolerance to violence of whatever form and by whoever commits it and the police must be non partisan in dealing firmly with it. Violent has no place in a democratic society.
There will always be differences of opinion on many issues , but these differences should not degenerate into violence or enemity. There will be irresponsible loud mouths in all parties, but these should be caged for the sake of building a just society for all Zambians.
President Lungu and UPND leader have set the tone and their followers should now take a leaf.