GEARS INITIATIVE’s view is that controlled by-elections in an electoral democracy are a necessary undertaking to gauge likely political realignments and changes before a major election.
We listened to the President’s views on by-elections during his media interactions recently as he kept his long standing views on the need to do away with the by-elections in our electoral system and process in Zambia.
However, what may be key to the nation’s democratic growth is to ensure that unnecessary causes of by-elections are curtailed and limited only to death and disqualification by the courts of law and not to completely do away with necessary by-elections.
What caused uproar over by-elections in the previous electoral cycle (2016-2021) was the abuses committed by the previous regime to wantonly engineer by-elections for political expedience.
On the other hand, we all know that ECZ was created and established to carrying out electoral management services and its constitutional functions, duties, responsibility and mandate is to manage and conduct elections which include referenda in Zambia and is allocated funds for that purposes.
Each Electoral Commission plans and budgets for uneventual elections as its main undertaking and the funds allocated for such a purpose can’t be wasted resources when that is part of the national budget and allocation.
In Zambia, we have had electoral cycles where we have had less number of by-elections than anticipated.
What did we use those funds allocated for the BY-ELECTIONS? Did we reallocate them to other areas and which areas?
Recently we saw how supposed saving from ECZ allocated funds being used to redesign a logo at ZMK1.5m because the ECZ might have nothing of developmental nature to apply such excess funding.
If by-elections are done away with, what would be the roles of the ECZ in between the General elections and would we still need the current establishment at ECZ?
Mind you that the full-time nature of the ECZ is for the purpose of carrying out such activities like by-elections and not only voter registration and education.
Unless we want to make the ECZ a part-time or ad hoc electoral institution which will only be constituted ahead of a general election, doing away with by-elections will just put the ECZ in a very awkward situation.
The by-elections only become expensive when they are induced by the politicians through wantonly expulsions and resignations but not death or disqualifications which rarely occur.
An example was the last electoral cycle (2016-2021) where less than 5 by-elections were caused by death and disqualification but the bulky of them were due to induced resignations.
The credibility of any Electoral democracy that hinges on representation through election must be through a fair and free election and not appointment or nominations.
People must exercise their right to choose people to represent them.
Nominations and appointments are signs of “selectocracy” which is a process of selecting leaders than subjecting them to elections which is a demand of any electoral democracy.
Even countries that don’t have by-elections, have a mechanism of gauging political and electroal dynamics and realignment in between major elections such mid-term elections (USA) and or holding of local government ELECTONS separately from the major elections (parliamentary and or Presidential) e.g. South Africa while the rest of Africa have provisions for by-elections in their Constitutions or electoral laws.
In the UK, by-elections are held when a vacancy has been caused by resignations and or death.
By-elections are a political gauge to assess politics dynamics such as shifts in political support to political parties ahead of a major election or possibilities of voter apathy and what is needed to be done, possibilities of occurrence of violence during and after elections and possible triggers and mitigation measures and voters realign themselves ahead of a major election.
By-elections can help pacify the post-election events as they act as a referral of how a participating political party was performing prior to the major election for it to claim victory or concede defeat.
This is so because some politicians bubble with victory confidence ahead of a major election and without a neutralizer like by-elections, this over confidence in some politicians can be a recipe for rejecting the electoral outcomes.
But their performance in by-elections moderates some politicians’ electoral Victory confidence and would most probably approach the major election with caution, preparedness and a sense of responsibility for either defeat or victory
Therefore, to move towards a by-electionless electroal democracy can be a very risky and destabilising undertaking and caution must be exercised.
In addition, there will be need for major constitutional and legal reforms by repealing the provision that are creating the ECZ and also change the electoral system and the type of democracy being practiced in Zambia e.g. from electoral democracy to something else or from the First Past The Post to Proportional Representation electoral system among other major reforms.
The caution is that this by-election debate must be devoid of political and economic attached emotions if a right thing is to be done and arrived at and avoid possible distabilisation of the country.
GEARs Executive Director