A call to peaceful, credible and transparent elections.
- To all members of the Catholic Church and all people of good will. We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in the words of St. Paul: “Now, may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Th. 3:16).
- As we are near the election day of 11th August 2016, we are compelled by the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14) to once again speak to the nation on matters relating to the electoral process. For us, every election is a moment of grace and an opportunity for self-appraisal as a nation. It is not only about the election of political leaders but as we have said before, it is an opportune time to review our past performance in order to prepare for better political choices for the future. It is also a time to celebrate our democratic independence as opposed to anxiety.
- We write this pastoral letter to you Catholics and people of goodwill in Zambia to remind you of your duty to elect leaders and of the need to maintain peace before, during and after the polling day. While each individual Catholic has the God-given right and freedom to decide on who to vote for and how to answer the referendum question, the teaching of the Church can offer you some valuable guidance in an attempt to reach an informed judgement that advances the common good. The Church believes that once people maintain and strengthen their democracy, they stand a better chance of actively participating and shaping the development of their country.
CONDITIONS FOR PEACEFUL, CREDIBLE AND TRANSPARENT ELECTIONS
- As we have often noted, the free will of the people is the hallmark of any credible election. We must therefore pay particular attention to key aspects that can enhance or reduce and even negate the credibility of the forthcoming elections. Some of the key conditions for any elections to be peaceful, credible and transparent include:
- a) Peaceful Atmosphere
4.1 Democracy requires in the first place that all citizens exercise their right to vote in a free and peaceful environment. Much as we are proudly acclaimed for being a peaceful country, we should never take things for granted. Given the increasing incidents of politically motivated violence and continued tension between members of political parties, our record of being peaceful is increasingly being threatened and we are afraid that if the current spate of violence is not curbed, may have a serious impact on the voter turnout as many eligible voters might fear going to vote due to security concerns.
4.2 We therefore urge all the politicians across the political divide to make every effort in ensuring an effective way of cadre management and to immediately tone down their confrontational rhetoric. What Zambians are expecting is for them to focus on key governance and developmental issues that will help the electorate to make informed decisions.
- b) Impartial Media
4.3 The role of the media in the electoral process cannot be over emphasised. All players in the electoral process need access to the mass media to propagate their agendas and programmes in a more efficient way. An impartial media that will treat every player equally is therefore cardinal. Both public and private media should adhere to the principle and ethics of fairness and truth. We urge especially the public media to be professional, ensure full and fair coverage of all political parties. On the other hand, we want a responsible use and reception of social media (CF. Let there be Peace Among Us – A ZEC Pastoral Statement issued on 23rd January, 2016, #s 27 & 28).We also urge all the consumers of the media outlets to be critical of the messages they receive from various media because it is not everything that they read, hear or watch contain the truth especially the information they get from the social media.
- c) Professional Enforcement of law and order by the Police
4.4 We know that it is the duty of the police to protect life and property and above all to maintain law and order. We call upon the Zambia Police Service to perform their duties of maintaining law and order professionally and effectively without undue pressure from partisan influence. They should be impartial and apply the law fairly to anyone who breaks the laws of this country. We call on the police to implement the Public Order Act in the most appropriate manner by ensuring that they do not exercise any inconsistencies or biases when dealing with different groups of people for any alleged offences or when political parties have provided notices for the holding of their public meetings and political rallies.
- d) The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ)
4.5 The ECZ is the legally constituted body mandated to manage our elections in such a manner that the right of the people to choose their leaders is unfettered. Given the many pressures exerted on the ECZ by various interest groups during election time, there is need for high levels of integrity by ECZ officers. ECZ should not be seen to be an institution that is being manipulated to suit the interest of one group or political party. We therefore urge the honourable Commissioners and ECZ staff to remain resolute and professionally conduct their business in providing the necessary mechanisms in the electoral process that will guarantee free and fair elections. The ECZ officers must remember that “The Lord demands fairness in every business deal; he sets the standards” (Prov. 16:11).
WHO SHOULD WE VOTE FOR
- Many times questions are asked for the Church to name a specific party or candidate whom all Christians should rally behind. The Church does not and will not support or prop up a particular political party or candidate. That is the free choice it leaves to its flock. The Church embraces members from diverse political persuasions and jealously protects their freedom of association. Nonetheless, based on our Christian principles, the Church can provide some guidance that could help its members make informed choices among the many candidates and political parties that present themselves for election.
- Drawing from the Social Teaching of Church, the qualities that candidates for political office should have are following: professional competence on political, economic and social programmes, courage to speak out the truth, concern for social justice, desire to work for the common good instead of self-enrichment, disposition to use power for service, especially service of the poor and under-privileged, openness to dialogue, good moral standing, transparency and accountability to the electorate (Cf. Building for Peace, # 11). Above all Christians should realise that they have a moral responsibility to vote for candidates who follow the example of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve and who emptied himself for the good of all (Cf. Mk 10:41-45).Therefore, Christians should not vote for candidates who are arrogant with a propensity to use violence, people with questionable moral standing, those with proven record of corruption and abuse of power and public resources and those who put narrow sectarian or ethnic interest before national interest and the common good.
REFERENDUM ON THE REVISED BILL OF RIGHTS
- We share the anxiety of many citizens in Zambia on the issue of referendum even as we are near our August elections this year. Little has been done by concerned government bodies to popularise the new and expanded draft Bill of Rights. Again, time seems to be against us in terms of making our people truly and objectively understand the contents of the said Bill and what they will be voting for or against in the proposed Referendum Question: Do you agree to the amendment to the Constitution of Zambia and to repeal and replace Article 79 of the Zambian Constitution? We are aware that some critical concerns have been raised in terms of the complexity of the Referendum Question itself as well as the symbols attached to it. On the other hand, it is our considered view that many of the constitutional changes we need to make that could improve the people’s quality of life and dignity hinge on reforming the current Bill of Rights. It is therefore imperative that more effort is made by both government and non-governmental actors, including the Church, to educate the people on the forthcoming elections and counsel them to vote wisely without coercing them to vote either yes or no.
- We call upon all Zambians who registered as voters to turn up and cast their votes during the voting day. Voting is not only a right but also a duty to the country to help identify and put in place credible people who will make the state function in the promotion of the common good. Never get tired of voting, as your apathy will only give greater chance to opportunists to carry the day.
- To you our dear political leaders, we appeal to you to respect the views of others. If you truly want to be chosen for national governance, then you should show commitment to the common good that transcends partisan interests. If elected, you will have a duty to all, including those who are not your members or did not vote for you and your party.
- Further we call upon all Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to play an important role in educating, organising and mobilising the public. We call upon them to redouble their efforts in facilitating citizens to make meaningful participation in our electoral process. We also call upon organisations intending to monitor the elections to be adequately prepared for this task. They should be equally independent and free from manipulation and give the public truthful information about the proceedings of the elections.
- We again appeal to our own Catholic priests to remain non-partisan. As we clearly stated in our statement at the beginning of the year: “The Church law is very clear on this (Cf. Canon Law 285 and Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2442). It is morally wrong for the Catholic priest to use the pulpit to campaign for, or de-campaign any political party or parties. In as much as we welcome Catholic politicians to celebrate Mass with us, they must not be given any platform to speak during liturgical celebrations” (Cf. Let there be Peace Among Us, #31).
- To our dear lay faithful, we call upon you to get involved in the electoral process. It is our Christian duty to participate in the civic life of our society. After all, the Gospel challenges you to be “the salt of the earth … and … the light of the world…” (Mt 5: 13-14).Use opportunities availed by your structures and programmes to educate yourselves on election issues and urge your members to get involved as voters, and monitors.
- We make a special appeal to you, the youth, with the conviction that you have a greater stake in the future of this nation. We challenge you to be architects of a better Zambia by being agents of peace and reconciliation. We appeal to you to “refuse to be used as mere tools of violence by politicians” (Let there be peace among us,# 26)
- In conclusion, we appeal to all Zambians to realise that voting is one of their fundamental rights and duties. It is also a Christian duty. We thus pray that all citizens enter the August 11 general elections with a spirit of honesty, avoiding bribes and cheating. We also pray that all voters, political party leaders and their cadres may have at heart, the needed passion and commitment to build for peace and avoid all forms of violence. As St. Paul exhorts us, “Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody” (Romans 12:18).
(N.B This Pastoral Letter should be read in all Catholic Parish Churches and Prayer Centres on 24th July 2016, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time).
May God bless our nation!
Issued at Kapingila House, Lusaka, on 17th July, 2016 and signed by:
Rt. Rev. Dr. Alick Banda – Bishop of Ndola and ZEC Vice-President
Most Rev. Ignatius Chama –Archbishop of Kasama
Rt. Rev. Raymond Mpezele – Apostolic Administrator of Livingstone
Rt. Rev. George Cosmas Zumaile Lungu – Bishop of Chipata
Rt. Rev. Charles Kasonde –Bishop of Solwezi
Rt. Rev. Evans Chinyama Chinyemba, OMI – Bishop of Mongu
Rt. Rev. Clement Mulenga, SDB – Bishop of Kabwe
Rt. Rev. Patrick Chilekwa Chisanga, OFM Conv. –Bishop of Mansa
Rt. Rev. Moses Hamungole –Bishop of Monze
Rt. Rev. Justin Mulenga – Bishop of Mpika
Rt. Rev. Benjamin S. Phiri – Auxiliary Bishop of Chipata
Rt. Rev. Aaron Chisha – Bishop Emeritus of Mansa
Mons. Valentine Kalumba, OMI – Bishop Elect of Livingstone