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ZAMBIA-HENRIOT Jan-26-2011 (440 words) With photo posted May 11. xxxi
US-born Jesuit: Zambia must not let elections be marred by violence
By Mwansa Pintu
Catholic News Service
LUSAKA, Zambia (CNS) -- Zambia must not permit its 2011 elections to be marred by political violence, as happened in other African countries, said a U.S.-born Jesuit who served for 20 years in Zambia.
Jesuit Father Peter Henriot, outgoing director of the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection in Lusaka, said Zambians must ensure that their general elections are held freely and transparently. He said that means ensuring fairness in the period leading up to the election.
"That means the media should cover all political parties," he told Catholic News Service in a recent interview before leaving the country. "Secondly, those civic authorities, the police and election officials must also treat all parties equally."
He said elections should not be seen as a technical exercise but as a reflection of the values of the nation.
"Elections are a matter of what kind of country we want to see in the future. You know a lot of people envied Zambians. We have had ups and downs, but we are not the Ivory Coast, we are not Zimbabwe or Kenya, and we should not be," said Father Henriot, who returned to the United States and was scheduled to go to Malawi later this year.
Father Henriot said he regretted the failure by the National Constitutional Conference delegates to recognize the importance of the economic and social rights clause as imperative to the development and well-being of the nation.
He said there was lack of understanding about those rights, which were portrayed by many as a burden to government rather than a progressive realization of basic human rights.
"The key to economic rights is the phrase 'progressive realization' and that the government must show each year in its budget that it is moving toward guaranteeing that there is adequate education, good health for all and available housing," he said.
He urged the government to pay more attention to guidance it received from the Catholic Church and dismissed the notion by some people that the church was too involved in political matters.
"Politics is life. Jesus was a strong politician, too, because he talked life. What is wrong is to be partisan," he said.
Representatives of the Jesuit center have served on government commissions and offered special papers at the request of presidential commissions, "but these views need to be paid attention to," Father Henriot said.
He also urged the church to be more focused on the anti-corruption fight and constitutional review.
"There is still a lot to do, and the basic thing to do is to work for the dignity of people, show concern for the poor," the priest said.
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