Last night, the Zambian Elections Information Centre (ZEIC) released its Pre-Election Report reviewing the events and conduct of the various political parties in the run-up to today’s election. Unsurprisingly, the report has found that the unprecedented levels of violence seen in this election have caused considerable political tensions which may have damaged hopes of a fair and free election. But the report has also judged that the ECZ did not do enough to manage the situation; specifically, with respect to public media coverage, the conduct of the Zambian police, the conduct of civil servants and how the political parties have engaged with the electoral commission.
In order to prevent any further political unrest and stability, the ZEIC has requested all stakeholders to avoid uncertainty by releasing timely and officially verified results information when appropriate; to avoid speculation of fraud and election violence unless this information is verified; and to prevent unwanted violence by releasing real time information on election results and events through the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
The ZEIC has found that the levels of violence seen in the run up to the election will likely have a negative effect on voter turnout. Violence has been perpetuated between the Patriotic Front and the UPND in at least two or three incidences each day across the country. Cadres have increasingly shown little regard for law enforcement, and thus there have been questions raised by citizens in the public whether the Zambian Police Authorities can guarantee the protection of those who go to the polling stations to vote. The ZEIC has cited that on numerous occasions, the police authorities have been criticised for only protecting the supporters of the ruling party and not all Zambians. The language used by political leaders such as Edgar Lungu has also been cited as a heavy contributing factor towards escalating violence.
The report finds that the right of parties to assemble has been abused with a clear bias in favour of the ruling Patriotic Front, whereby UPND rallies were cancelled on the basis that the Patriotic Front had now decided to campaign in the same region and that security services were understaffed to deal with both rallies. This formed the pretext for the police killing of Mapenzi Chibulo, aged 22 on 8th July 2016. The ECZ in response to these abuses of the Public Order Act has been found incompetent.
The findings also argue that the Electoral Commission has been vastly underprepared for the election. Having increased the number of polling stations from 6,456 in 2011 to 9,022 in 2016, the ECZ has not done enough to improve its logistical services to cope with the increase. Voter Education has been insufficient on both the elections and the national referendum.
With regard to the printing of ballot papers, the ECZ disregarded calls the reconsider the appointment of the controversial Al Ghurairi printing company based in Dubai, and more recently breached code of conduct when they sent off ballot papers to the polling stations in the middle of the night, rather than at the agreed time at which party stakeholders could witness the process.
The media coverage in the run-up to the election has been severely compromised, with many high profile media outlets under the control of ruling party, whilst other independent and critical voices being silenced completely.
There has also been concerns raised over the participation of women in this election, as candidates, campaigners and as voters. The ZEIC has noted that only 94 female candidates have stood in this election in comparison with 138 in 2011. The UPND is represented by the most female candidates with 29, whilst the PF have 24. Though it has been found that women form the majority of the registered voters, with 3,372,935 out of the 6,698,372 total. The ZEIC observed that the escalation of violence, where on occasions women have been stripped naked and beaten by cadres, has consistently been detrimental to the engagement of women in political action.
On the whole, the ZEIC report has been particularly damning of the work done by the ECZ and has shown that they have not done enough to ensure secure a free and fair election. On too many occasions, the nature of the election and the conditions in which campaigns have been conducted have favoured the current ruling party, to the detriment of other opposition parties. If the ruling Patriotic Front emerge from these elections victorious, there will be many eyebrows raised and a lot of questions for both the PF and the ECZ to answer.