The election of Ricardo Lumengo, a former refugee from Angola, to the Swiss National Parliament in 2007 changed the notion of many people about the political spectrum of the country, and the Swiss people.
As soon as he started his political life as a member of Swiss national parliament, Lumengo, a lawyer by profession, began intensively to encourage Africans and people of African descent in the country to get integrated in every facet of Swiss every day life, politically, professionally, economically and discard the notion that Swiss people were racists, and that they were only interested in Africa for the benefit they could derive from looted money by African leaders stashed in Swiss banks.
His performance in the parliament was beyond expectation for a black man like himself in an uncharted national political arena of Switzerland. He, like the Swiss living abroad who remember their roots, does not forget his African origins whenever an opportunity arises in the parliament to address issues that affect them.
For example, in 2008 he tabled his first motion in the parliament to extend the bilateral agreement between Switzerland and European Union (EU) countries on the taxation of savings to non-EU member states, especially developing countries like those on the African continent, saying a substantial sum of money that comes from these countries to Switzerland “represents a big tax loss higher than Swiss development assistance.”
He asked for an extension of the agreement to these countries arguing that by so doing they (the countries) would not totally lose from the money being taken out.
He gave as an example that the savings of 59 Angolans in Swiss banks could fetch Angola about CHF 620 million benefiting from savings on income taxation if the agreement had been in place.
For three years Mr. Lumengo enjoyed a political honey moon in the country’s political arena. Suddenly there came a big bang a year before the parliamentary elections. In November last year some of the country’s print media came out with screaming headlines about alleged election fraud involving Lumengo. Some electronic media joined in painting him negatively giving him no breathing space to properly explain himself; rather they tried to put words in his mouth. It seemed something was in the offing, maybe an attempt to kick him out of the Swiss political arena in which the perpetrators were against him in the first place. They could not envisage how he could earn a seat in their national parliament. The allegations became an opportunity to discredit him, so they fuelled his prosecution.
The alleged fraud was about sample ballots found in ballot boxes in the 2006 local elections in which he won a seat in the canton of Biel assembly and in the 2007 national elections in which he was elected to the national parliament. During the 2006 election campaign he had shown some potential voters who did not understand how to fill out the ballot paper how to fill it out by providing an example. Some of these voters when casting their votes, which were for him, dropped the samples in the ballot boxes. Investigations showed that the handwriting was Lumengo’s. A similar occurrence happened during the 2007 election but investigations showed someone else filled out the ballots which could, as well, have incriminated him. He was charge in respect of the 2006 election.
The intention of the perpetrators was to get him charged for election fraud, unfortunately for them this was to be, rather he was instead charged for a lighter offence under Art. 282bis which states “Any person who systematically collects, completes or alters ballot papers, or distributes ballot papers which have been completed or altered in this way shall be liable to a fine.”
He lost the case in a Biel lower court, but as a legal practitioner himself he would not rest his case there, and filed an appeal to a higher court.
Some political analysts had wondered at the desperation to prosecute him, and viewed it as a form of political vendetta.
A strained relationship developed between Mr. Lumengo and his political party – the Socialist Party after the lower court ruling.
According to him, the pressure from the party for him to step down minutes after the court ruling without considering the possibility to explore other legal means available to fight the case was so much that he had to resign from the party. “I had earlier agreed to step down if I lost the case but not until I had explored all legal chances available to clear my name of the charge,” he told Africa Link.
The party seemed not ready to accommodate this prolonged step. It was not ready to wait for the result of the further legal tussle he intended to take before making a decision. Eventually in his appeal to a High Court in Berne he was cleared of the charges.
Africa Link contacted the national president of his party, Mr. Christian Levrat for comment on the matter. Here is the dialogue between Africa Link and the president:
Mr. Levrat we want to recall the political development in Switzerland in 2007 when despite the political aggression against people of black colour especially of African origin by some people and a political party, your party made history in that your candidate of African origin Mr. Ricardo Lumengo was elected as the first black member of the Swiss Senate. The endorsement of his candidacy by your party, and support that saw him elected was unprecedented. However it is something difficult to understand why the party failed to support him fight the case against him last year regarding sample ballot papers. Instead the party decided to terminate his membership. Could you explain to our readers why the party took the decision at that time?
“The Socialist Party of Switzerland has in no way abandoned Ricardo Lumengo. To the contrary, the party’s General Secretariat has stood by him and counseled him during the entire process of the legal assessment of the case and supported him in the area of communication. On our side, the presumption of innocence has always prevailed. There had also never been any exclusion from the party, and Ricardo Lumengo was not pressed by Socialist Party to resign. He came to this decision by himself and I myself regretted this.”
Now that the high court has cleared him of the offence, don’t you feel the party should have exercised some patience to see the outcome of his appeal to the high court before taking any decision?
“To be sure, we are equally happy about the acquittal of Ricardo Lumengo. Ricardo Lumengo’s departure ensued after the verdict of the first court where he was arraigned. In the run-up to this court decision, the SP of Canton Bern had made up an agreement with Ricardo Lumengo that, in case of conviction, the latter would resign from his seat in the National Council. However, this didn’t happen. The SP of Canton Bern held the opinion that in the event of a criminal conviction, the credibility of his parliamentary office would no longer be sufficient. On this account, the SP of Canton Bern saw itself forced to call on Ricardo Lumengo to resign from the National Council. Unfortunately, Ricardo Lumengo subsequently left the party altogether.”
What is your comment about the court’s judgment?
“I am very happy that Ricardo Lumengo has been discharged of the allegation of electoral fraud, among other things. Voter fraud weighs heavily in the eyes of the Socialist Party and is deemed inexcusable. Accurate election results are the foundation of our democracy, and a manipulation of the ballot may not be accepted.”
Do you have candidate/s of African origin contesting in the October election? How many, and on what level, commune, city, canton and federal?
“For the coming national parliamentary elections, there are again individual candidates of African origin, like Cécile Leliane Schärer-Nguiamba for the SP of Canton Bern and Andrew Katumba for the SP of Canton Zurich. But nominations are not yet closed in all cantons.”
To date, Mr. Lumengo is also very happy about his acquittal, and has decided to seek a re-election under the platform of another party.
However those who instigate his prosecution would not rest, despite the acquittal they still believe he is finished politically. One would have suggested that his legal victory would be a catalyst for his reelection rather than the contrary. That brings about the burning questions in the minds of some people. Questions like:
Why the desperation to see him prosecuted in the first place, and looking at his acquittal negatively? Why make a mountain out of mole hill (trivial issue)? Has politics in Switzerland become a dirty game?
Time will tell.
Photo: Mr. Lumengo