Africa Zambia boils over campaign funding

Zambia boils over campaign funding

Acting President Guy Scott listens to Defence and Justice minister Edgar Lungu  after Cabinet meeting
Acting President Guy Scott listens to Defence and Justice minister Edgar Lungu after Cabinet meeting

(AA) – A heated debate is raging in Zambia over campaign funding by special-interest groups amid mounting calls for political parties to disclose their funding sources.

“Sometimes, people and organizations give to political parties with conditions attached,” Lee Habasonda, head of Transparency International’s Zambia chapter, told The Anadolu Agency.

“If these conditions aren’t known, it becomes a source of concern – especially in countries like Zambia, where political and electoral funding goes unregulated,” he said.

Zambians will head to the polls on Jan. 20 to elect a new president after President Michael Chilufya Sata died in a London hospital in late October.

Over four million voters – out of Zambia’s 13-million-strong population – will be eligible to cast ballots.

Eleven candidates from different political parties will contest the race, including incumbent Justice and Defense Minister Edger Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front.

Habasonda said the dangers associated with unregulated funding for political parties were manifold, with financiers usually seeking political favors after the winning party forms a government.

Financers, he added, pressure the new government to formulate and enforce policies – including legal and economic ones – that serve their own interests.

“The funders could be contributing proceeds from crime on the understanding that, when these political parties form a government, they will be expected to return the favor,” Habasonda said.

“Such conditions attached to [political] funding always work to the disadvantage of the governed,” he insisted.

Chilufya Tayali, executive director of Zambian Voice, a local NGO, recently accused certain presidential candidates of receiving campaign funding from foreign parties.

Lungu, for one, has admitted to soliciting funds from what he described as the ruling party’s “friends” abroad.

He declined, however, to identify the party’s benefactors, insisting that there was no law requiring parties to do so.

-Loophole-

Beatrice Grillo, chairman of Zambia’s NGO Coordination Council, criticized Lungu’s position.

“Lungu is not an ordinary politician in this government,” she told AA. “He is both defense and justice minister.”

Lungu, she went on to assert, “should have had the courage to reveal the source of his campaign funding, because the people have the right to know where politicians get their funds.”

Grillo insisted that the same should be applied to all the candidates in the upcoming presidential by-elections.

Macdonald Chipenzi, executive director of the Foundation for Democratic Process, a local NGO, said the absence of laws regulating political funding allowed Zambian politicians to obtain sponsorship from anywhere, including individuals and organizations.

“Unless legal mechanisms are put in place to address this mischief… Zambian politicians will continue to put Zambia at risk of being mortgaged to powerful elements, local and foreign,” he told AA.

“That is why my organization demands that Zambia join the rest of the world in introducing disclosure laws that will promote clean politics,” Chipenzi said.

Suzyo Zimba, however, president of Zambia’s Islamic Council, doubts the proposal is feasible.

“As much as we would like to have this mischief cured, we are bound to meet stiff resistance from the politicians who are the main perpetrators,” he told AA.

“Politicians will oppose the idea of introducing a law intended to regulate funding for political parties,” Zimba added.

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