It is now 3 weeks since the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) launched a 30-day voter registration exercise. Almost 3.4 million Zambians have registered as voters. In particular, 3,495,191 out of the targeted 9.9 million potential voters have registered, according to our account.
But even before the registration exercise had commenced, ECZ faced numerous criticism from stakeholders, in particular, our political parties. The opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) led the onslaught and accused the Commission of wanting to disfranchise Zambians through overhauling the voter’s register.
More recently, Civil Society stakeholders led by the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) strongly criticized ECZ for what they termed as ‘electoral manipulation tactic by some ECZ officials through unfair allocation of registration kits in favour of opposition strongholds’.
No doubt, the area for which the elections body operates is not an easy one at all, given that elections in Zambia have always been very competitive. This is why we feel the Commission requires the support of everyone in managing the electoral process.
However, we also concerned with the reaction from Patrick Kletptus Nshindano who tried to silence voices of CSOs using the “autonomous status” of the Commission.
We agree with Mr. Nshindano that the ECZ enjoys autonomy in managing elections. However, the Commission and its officers are not immune from public scrutiny and criticism. This is because ECZ is not managing internal elections but national elections.
ECZ must thus continue to listen to all stakeholders and accept criticisms, including the so-called “profiling” of officers who do things that can bring the Commission into public disrepute and odium.
Some people said officers who were singled out were Lozis and Tongas. We think this is a foolish argument. People should not always hide under the veil of tribalism – whether Ngoni or Tonga or Bemba or Lozi. When one does some things in a crooked manner, they are crooks, irrespective of one’s tribes.
We do not need to remind Mr. Nshindano and other ECZ officers that before them, men and women of unquestionable integrity served the Commission. Still they were called out by stakeholders whenever they felt there was something wrong.
Judge Essau Chulu himself has repeatedly been called out and accused to be the stooge of the Patriotic Front by Hakainde Hichilema. Chief Justice Irene Mambilima, who chaired the Commission, was called out and accused of supporting the MMD by late Michael Sata. Danny Kalale, Priscilla Isaacs, Chellah Choomba, Chris Akufuna, name them all. They all had a fair share of criticism. None tried to hide under the veil of the law.
Now, our view as regards the ongoing registration of voters is that ECZ has doing well this far despite notable challenges related with insufficient registration kits and staffing levels at registration centers.
Zibani Zambia believes ECZ can still conduct a credible election in 2021 involving 4.5 million registered voters, even if no extension is given. In 2016, only 3,867,300 voters took part in an election which saw President Edgar Lungu win with a 100,530 voters against the next contender, Hakainde Hichilema.
Irrespective of our position above, we urge ECZ to begin making plans for extending the voter registration exercise by at least two more weeks to allow our people who have shown interest to register and vote in 2021 elections.
Even as we call for the extension, the elections body must pay attention to deploying more kits and registration officers to constituencies which are doing fine than deploying them to constituencies have already exceeded half the voters they had in 2016. But this is a discussion for another day.
On our part, we commend the Commission for the progress made so far. We call on all stakeholders to give ECZ time to come up with a clean register.