The Road To 2021, Lessons from 2016

While it is important that the outstanding legal matters with regards to the 2016 elections are quickly and transparently resolved, two years on since the polls work should now be underway to deliver the necessary reforms and improvements to the process ahead of the 2021 elections.

In this article Open Zambia takes a look at some of the key recommendations made in 2016 by various observation missions and interested parties to reflect on the road ahead to 2021.

The difficult media environment was a commonly identified problem in 2016. Ensuring state media is free from bias and allowing the private media to do their job is important in ensuring that the vote is seen as free and fair and in enabling citizens to inform themselves and feel empowered and motivated to make their choice between the candidates and parties. ZNBC is, after all, meant to be a public service broadcaster not a partisan mouthpiece. Among the observer recommendations following the 2016 elections was a proposal to support neutrality through providing protection of tenure for directors and senior management of ZNBC, with civil society to bee consulted with regards to appointments.

Another contentious area during the campaigns was the use of the Public Order Act, and not for the first time. In particular observers recommended greater clarity on the grounds for restricting or imposing conditions on assemblies, as well as shortening permit approval timelines which have been argued to advantage the ruling party.

There is also some heavy legal work to be considered. The EU observer mission was among those to recommend a detailed review of the electoral legal framework and redrafting of unclear ambiguous and conflicting provisions. This move, if conducted independently and without favour, would ensure that clarity is given before the polls rather than disputes emerging after the vote has taken place and being stuck in the courts for months or even years afterwards, also hopefully reducing the number of nullifications and costly by-elections.

The Commonwealth observer mission also recommended a constituency boundary review to standardise the number of voters across constituencies to ensure fair and equal representation.

Also critical are improvements to the results management system. It was the lengthy delay to results, even in Lusaka itself, which began to feed suspicion. Something witnessed in neighbouring Zimbabwe just last week.

While several matters may still be working their way through the courts a full two years on from the 2016 elections, the sooner some of these recommendations are adopted the better the prospect of uncontested elections in 2021.

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