FODEP (Foundation for the Democratic Process) released a report on the role of party manifestoes in our democracy this week. Based on a questionnaire conducted in Chipata, Choma and Ndola, the report examined the extent to which citizens understand and have access to party manifestoes and other sources of political information, as well as how such access and their usefulness can be improved. It is a welcome piece of research two years before Zambia’s next election that should now be used by parties to help make sure their 2016 manifestoes work for the people.
The report argues that manifestoes can play an important role in voter confidence and turnout so long as they provide a serious insight into what a party plans to do if elected. They can also prove a useful tool for holding a government to account once elected by comparing their track record against the promises they made in writing.
However, whilst the survey showed most people find manifestoes a useful tool, most respondents did not have access to the actual manifesto documents. Instead, many accessed information about campaign promises through electronic and print media instead. The report therefore recommends that manifestos should be better distributed on a local level, as well as being translated into local languages.
The survey also revealed that most respondents believed that the Patriotic Front had delivered on several of their campaign promises since entering power in 2011, particularly regarding infrastructure. However, there was also dismay following their inability to keep some of their 90-day promises in particular, such as the delivery of a new constitution, as well as failures in the provision of farming inputs.
The FODEP report included the following recommendations:
- Party manifestoes should be brief and to the point, in order to be easier to understand
- Party manifestoes should be translated into local languages, and distributed locally rather than just in Lusaka and online
- Party manifestoes should be realistic and parties should make clear how they are delivering on their campaign promises once in power
The report forms part of the ‘Tracking Electoral Campaign Promises Project’ run by FODEP that aims to make political leaders accountable for their election promises.