FOUNDATION for Democratic Process (FODEP) commends the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and the Police Force for improving the conduct and management of the Kapiri Mposhi and Lukulu West parliamentary by-elections that were held on 23rd April, 2013. The entire process showed great improvement in terms of addressing electoral malpractices especially violence and political confrontations. Despite their competitiveness, the by-elections were generally peaceful, orderly and political contenders showed high levels of political tolerance. In addition, ECZ exhibited high levels of increased efficiency in its preparations and delivery of electoral materials to by-election areas as all polling centers received the materials in time. However, the acquisition and transmission of results at the end of the voting process from polling stations posed a challenge in Lukulu West and some parts of Kapiri Mposhi, leading to delayed announcement of the official results by the ECZ.
FODEP deployed monitors in the two by-elections and based on their field reports, is pleased that the incidents of confrontation and violence committed by participating political parties reduced significantly compared to the previous by-elections in Livingstone and Mpongwe. The maturity exhibited by political stakeholders before, during and after the by-elections was encouraging and should be commended. The Zambia Police Force also played a major role in the by-elections by administering the Public Order Act (POA) professionally. As a stakeholder and watchdog organization in the electoral process, FODEP would like to see the sustainability of such levels of integrity and professionalism in the management and conduct of all elections in future in the country that would be free and devoid of violence, corruption, bribery and selective application of the law which, should be the preoccupation of all Zambians especially those responsible for managing the process.
However, having followed the events before, during and after the elections, FODEP observed with great concern some elements which are detrimental to the holding of free, fair and credible elections in the country. If allowed to continue, they will continued to compromise and dent the integrity and public confidence in the electoral process of the country and render our existing Electoral Laws merely academic. These were:
Ø Continued incidents of malpractices such as bribery and grabbing of voter’s cards. The case of Kapiri Mposhi where one man and woman were apprehended on allegations of engaging themselves in dishing out monies and possession of voter’s and National Registration cards contrary to the provision of both the electoral Act and Electoral Code of Conduct is a source of worry. However, the alertness of stakeholders such as political parties and the police’s swift response to such complaints of malpractices was encouraging. There is need to ensure that the culprits are punished to serve as lesson to future offenders.
Ø Unabated excess of electoral blackmail by those in power; FODEP observed increased initiation, frequent monitoring and pronouncements of developmental projects by senior government officials. For instance in Lukulu West, the republican Vice-President had to commence monitoring of developmental projects after the close of official campaign period. The Republican President was also busy launching projects in the same province such as the construction of the ultra-modern stadium in Mongu and officially opening the Shang’ombo District Hospital in Shang’ombo District respectively, both located in the same province where the by-election was taking place. In Kapiri-Mposhi, the President had to announce the creation of a new District of Ngabwe during campaigns, a move seen by many observers as means to attract people’s sympathy and consequently their vote for the ruling party. As a result of the creation of a new district, Chief Ngabwe was extensively covered by the media praising government for the gesture allegedly saying he and his subjects would support the ruling party including his village head persons. These activities which are done during electoral campaigns can be misconstrued by competing parties to mean voter blackmail by the ruling party. It is FODEP’s hope that in future, government should minimize or suspend such activities until after campaigns are over as they have the potential to influence voters’ choices in an electoral period. These acts alone can be misconstrued to mean luring voters’ mind to vote for the ruling party, since they were dormant before the by- elections. The ECZ should also move in and, if possible, the current Electoral code of Conduct, incorporate such calculated incidents in the name of development.
Ø Involvement of chiefs in active politics was overtly observed in Kapiri Mposhi where named traditional leaders openly and in the presence of government officials, pronounced their partisan inclinations in abrogation of Article 129 of the Constitution of Zambia without any censorship from government. Such breaches of the supreme law of the land in the presence of its custodians, does not inspire confidence and gives a gloomy picture of the dedication of government to the respect of rule of law in the country. FODEP expects Government to be in the forefront of censoring traditional leaders engaging themselves in partisan politics to stop regardless of whether or not they support the ruling or opposition political party.
Ø Voter apathy has continued to be a serious threat to Zambia’s young electoral democracy. The low levels of voter turn-out during the just ended by-elections speak volumes and should be a source of concern and worry to all stakeholders who wish to see the growth of participatory and competitive electoral democracy in Zambia. Although the figures in Lukulu are better and encouraging where 5,922 (about 49.8%) out of 11,889 registered voters participated, the Kapiri-Mposhi case is disturbing where only 12,645 (about 14%) out of 84,386 registered voters turned out to vote. The Kapiri Mposhi case is the worst case scenario and a reflection of a demotivated cadre of electorate. The contributing factors to this situation could be probably be;
o Lack of civic and voter education; has been eating up the electoral process. Most of the by-elections held so far have been conducted without any comprehensive voter education programme by both the ECZ and Civil Society. Potentially, many voters could have had limited knowledge, understanding, appreciation and enthusiasm to participate effectively in the elections and base their choices on substantial information. FODEP hopes the situation will be considered seriously by all concern stakeholders for possible investments in voter education activities in future elections. It is also possible that the absence of planned voter education could have contributed to repeated incidents of vote buying and violence in some areas.
o Season in which by-election took place; the two by-election were held during seasons where people in the two areas were involved in another equally important activities for their livelihood. In Lukulu and some parts of Kapiri Mposhi, the electorate had relocated to fishing camps while other areas of Kapiri Mposhi, electorate were busy with farming activities such as harvesting their maize.
o No change syndrome; many voters felt it was not necessary to vote because even if they voted, the status quo remain as there will be no change of government.
o False and unfulfilled promises by elected leaders has been another major setback in the electoral process. Electorates feel cheated by their leaders as most campaign promises are either breached or unattended without explanation to the electorates. For instance, of all the by-elections held, promises from government have been made such as grading of roads, all electrifying villages, building chiefs’ palaces among others. These have not seen the light of day once people of the respective constituencies have voted. As such, it is very likely electorates could be losing interest in continuous voting, unless it begins to translate into tangible results and actual delivery of development by those elected.
o Inaccessibility of the polling stations; This was true in Lukulu and parts of Kapiri Mposhi which was water logged. Voters had difficulties accessing polling stations as the areas were flooded and required the use of canoes or boats which could have been beyond some voters’ means. It was the reason, at one time, Western Province Permanent secretary had suggested for the postponement of the Lukulu by-election as most parts of the constituency was flooded at the time of the election.
o UN updated voter register; Even if the total register voters in both Lukulu and Kapiri Mposhi read 11,889 and 84,386 respectively, the actual numbers could be low due to mobility and mortality. This is compounded by the failure by the ECZ to regularly update its numbers on the voter’s roll ahead of by-elections as it will give fair reflection of the actual turn-out in any given by-election. It is fact that the 2011 register which is two years old now is no longer having current information on the actual number of voters in any given constituency as some of the voters have either relocated or died. It is FODEP’s recommendation to government to fund the ECZ to implement the continuous voter registration in accordance with the law.
Ø Poor Communication facilities continue to pose a challenge to the ECZ. The fact that results in some hard to reach areas had to take almost over 24 hours to be officially announced should be a source of concern and worry to the Commission and other stakeholders. For instance, results from many areas of Lukulu and some areas in Kapiri Mposhi took long to be delivered to the totaling centre, despite the use of helicopter. In Lukulu West even the totaling centre was not reachable by mobile phone. It is surprising that in this era and age, some places are not serviced by modern means of communication and citizens still facing difficulties to interact with the rest of the country, later on outside world. In as much as the official timeframe for announcement of electoral results is pegged at 48hrs and the commission within its right to announce the election results two days after elections, the delayed official announcement of electoral results when in other constituencies where elections took place at the same are known almost immediately, has potential to cause anxieties and raise suspicion among stakeholders against the Commission. This consequently erodes confidence in the work of the Commission. FODEP would suggest for an efficient and effective communication strategy from the Commission to be devised such as radio messages to ensure quick acquisition and transmission of the electoral results.
Ø Media coverage: the media coverage of the electoral process still requires much to be desired. The mainstream media coverage of the campaigns and later on the results was not satisfying as it showed some inbuilt biases. Little coverage of the contending political parties especially the opposition was witnessed, apart from mere mentioning that they were also contenders in the by-elections. This is in breach of Electoral Code of Conduct which requires all media to give participating political parties equal coverage in an election.
Conclusion: FODEP would like to commend all the political parties that participated for promoting competitiveness and upholding the tenets of multiparty participatory democracy. Without their participation, Zambia’s young electoral democracy would have been stifled, boring and risked sliding back into one-political party dominance syndrome. It is FODEP’s desire to see more political parties competing in elections to register their relevance for existence. It is therefore, FODEP’s considered view that the outcome of the two by-elections reflected the will of the voters who took part in the respective constituencies.