By Chief Mpepo
Usually when an individual wishes to run for political office be it at councillor or parliamentary or indeed local government level, they do that on a particular party platform, a political party, and becomes a member and then a candidate on that party’s ticket. The candidate can also choose not to use a political party platform but rather to run as an independent candidate. This is provided for in the republican constitution, unlike the condition prescribed for presidential candidates (and their running mates) that they have to be sponsored by a political party in order for them to contest.
Whether or not the aspirant chooses to contest on a political party platform or as an independent candidate is an exercise of their democratic right of freedom of association, which also set safely in the republican constitution.
But how should political party structures and leaderships scrutinize those that wish to be associated with them—as their candidates? Or, put differently, how should a member wishing to run for office on this party’s ticket be vetted?
There are only a certain number of conditions that are logical and constitutional, and only these should be satisfied in the vetting process. These conditions include but are not limited to:
1. An individual has to be a Zambian of over a certain specified age.
2. Must be a holder of a green National Registration Card, NRC.
3. The individual must be a bona fide member of the political party.
4. Must not have a criminal record.
And of particular importance to a political party is “do the people want this particular candidate?” as well as “can this candidate deliver—deliver the victory, deliver on the campaign promise of development” And this is a very important question in any democracy; “what do the people want?”
But lately it has become fashionable for political party top leadership structures to scrutinize would be aspirants based on other criteria that are either illogical or unconstitutional or both.
Such criteria include the use of the instruments of tribalism and nepotism among others. The users of these faulty and retrogressive methods fail to use the above stated logical and constitutional conditions, as well as the questions of “do the people want this particular candidate?” or “can this candidate deliver?” And the very important question in any democracy, “what do the people want?”
All these bad practices of tribalism, nepotism, and must be rooted out whenever and wherever that they arise.
Just to show how these should not be considered or have not been considered in the past, examples abound both in antiquity and contemporary times–both within and outside our country, Zambia.
For example, independent Zambia’s first elected national assembly had among its members two relatives. And not just that, the two hailed from the same household, they were brothers in the names of Messrs Arthur and Sikota Wina who represented Mongu-Lealui and Luanshya-Kalulushi constituencies, respectively. In this regard, the questions of these two sons of the soil hailing from the same tribe and indeed family was not considered. What the great Zambians of the time, some of whom are still surviving to this day did was to answer the questions of “is this a Zambian?.” “Is this a bona fide member of the political party?” “Can this candidate deliver” and “is this the candidate that the people want to represent them?” These Wina brothers were also recognised to be freedom fighters and that also earned them the trust of their constituents, and their vote. And the same can be said of the time the late Mrs Nakatindi Wina and her husband Sikota Wina both served as MPs at the same time under MMD Government of the late President Dr. Frederick Jacob Chiluba.
To go further afield, during the 2nd century BCE, two brothers, the Gracchi brothers both became senators of ancient Rome and served in the senate at the same time.
Again in more recent history, the United States of America has had people who may have been related serving in elected office at the same time. And in these cases too, the questions that came to be most prominent were those that were also asked in the Zambian scenario. And the examinations that had to be passed were only the logical and constitutional ones.
When JF Kennedy was elected president of the USA (1961-1963), his younger brother Edward Kennedy was elected to be the US Senator from Massachusetts, a position in which he served from 1962-2009. During this period, another member of the same family, a brother of the two Kennedys, Robert, won the election as Senator from New York (1965-68), after having been the Attorney General from 1961-64. Yet again when the US Senate considered and scrutinized him, Edward Kennedy was voted as the Chair of the Senate Health Committee (2007-2009).
Also, and even more recently in the USA, George HW Bush was elected Vice president from 1981-89, while his blood relative, his own son Jeb Bush became Florida’s Secretary of Commerce from 1987-88, after winning the election for the same office. And when the American Republican party evaluated another candidate, George Bush, he was allowed to contest on that party’s ticket as its candidate after he applied to run on it. And the American electorate went on ahead to vote for him to be the Governor of Texas a position which he held from 1995-2000, while Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor from 1999-2007. Jeb happened to be George HW Bush’s son and George Bush’s brother.
In the examples cited above, just as in the others not cited, it can be seen clearly that what is more important is that the will of the majority of the people prevailed by using the three logical and constitutional questions of:
i. Do the people want this particular candidate?
ii. Can this candidate deliver?
iii. And what do the people want?
Additionally, and also of importance, we see that the leadership structures in our examples did not go against nor did they disregard the collective will of the people.
In this regard, the leadership in the various different political parties in Zambia have the responsibility to rise to the occasion and continue with this good practice of “not going against or disregarding the collective will of the people” that has been set both within and outside the country. But to use only the logical and constitutional (i.e. both the party’s and country’s constitutions) criteria when vetting the would-be aspirants both in this year’s election and the other elections to come.
Merit is blind to perceptible alleged notions of nepotism when people from the same stock prove and earn their positions. To deny such merit is injurious to persons and the system we create. It is reverse nepotism.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was minister, his brother Joseph Edmund Johnson, Baron Johnson of Marylebone served as Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation from July to September 2019, as well as previously from 2015 to 2018. They disagreed with him on brexit and resigned.
Their Father Stanley Patrick Johnson served as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Wight and Hampshire East from 1979 to 1984. Their Sister Rachel Sabiha Johnson was the lead candidate for Change UK for the South West England constituency in the 2019 European Parliament election. She is a leading political pundit with Sky News.
Lastly, let me call for unity of purpose in the nation as the nation heads towards the 12th August 2021 elections. These elections must unite rather than divide families, communities, parties or the nation.
One Zambia. One Nation.
The Author is Chief Mpepo of the Bemba-Speaking People in Kanchibiya District, Muchinga Province.