Friday, August 9, 2013
STATEMENT ISSUED BY A CONSORTIUM OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN ELECTIONS AND ELECTORAL PROCESS ON THE FORTHCOMING BY ELECTIONS Dear Colleagues, We, the civil society in the electoral process in Zambia hereby want to make our position known on the debate raging on the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ)’s allowance of persons whose parliamentary seats have been nullified by the Courts of Law and the statement from the Judiciary regarding the same. We have followed the debate with an extra keen interest as it is coming at the time the country is preparing itself to hold four more by-elections in Petauke Central, Malambo, Mulobezi and Mkaika constituencies. These by-elections have been primarily caused by a court action save for Mkaika which was caused by resignation of the incumbent, David Phiri of MMD to join the ruling Patriotic Front. We noted that this is the first time in the history of Zambia that political parties, judiciary and some civil society have shown unprecedented interest in the matter since the nullifications and re-contesting of seats by persons whose seats have been previously nullified by the courts. This is evidenced by the fact that there are no final election reports that have been compiled by various stakeholders involved in the electoral process in Zambia which have specifically made recommendations on Section 22 or 104 of the Electoral Act No.12 of 2006. Constitutionally under Article 65 (6) only persons who are convicted by any court of any offence prescribed by parliament and connected with election of the members of National Assembly or who is FOUND GUILTY of such an offence by the courts trying an election petition are disqualified from contesting an election as members of parliament including voting for period of five years. This is also in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act No. 12 of 2006 section 19 (6) and 22 (b) Therefore, we are unaware of any judgment passed by the courts CONVICTING OR FINDING guilty individuals whose elections have been nullified. The three seats out of four supposed to be re-contested on September 5 were nullified by the Supreme Court and this court never ruled that the concerned persons were Guilty or Convicted hence could not re-contest their seats. It is amazing that this same court today turns 360 degrees round through a statement that the concerned persons are ineligible to re-contest their seats. This is unfortunate and is lowering the standing of the Supreme Court which is the highest court of justice in the land. Public Perceptions are now that this court is being nurtured to settle political battles. How does the court questions an election and nullifies a seat without any petition filed in the High Court in accordance with section 93 (1) of the Electoral Act No. 12 of 2006 and who is the complaint? Where has been the Supreme Court all along when persons whose election has been nullified were recontesting? What has prompted the Supreme Court to issue a statement rather than a judgment on the matter on the eve of the nominations? It is clear that the Supreme Court is now undermining the Electoral Commission of Zambia. The statement from the Supreme Court should, in fact suppose, to have been issued by the ECZ upon receipt of court judgment interpreting the provisions of the law. Since, the Supreme Court has just issued a statement and not judgment; it is not binding on anybody but just an opinion from the Court. Regarding the provisions of Section 22 and the response given by the ECZ on the need to understand that the section in tandem with Section 104. We are convinced that Section 22 and 104 respectively have not been followed as a result of Courts not passing clear judgments. We have studied the argument from both sides and realize that there is no need to throw such mud on the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and that some of the sentiments are based on partisan interest and subjective view rather than objective and professional opinion. In appreciating and respecting people’s concerns and their democratic rights to provide checks and balances in the work of the Commission, we would like to advise that this debate should bring out the best for the improvement of our electoral process rather than aiming at annihilating individuals either in the political arena or at the Commission. We therefore, find it unfair and unjustifiable for anyone to target the Commission’s Director, her staff and call for her resignation. Unjustifiable in the sense that the same people who had been saying that the ECZ is inert, were either mute or castigated the Commission when it censured the parading of chiefs at political party rallies which is a breach of the Constitution, Electoral Act and Regulations It is like the biblical saying of a “prophet without honor in his/her home country” is being fulfilled in the case of the ECZ. This is so because in the entire sub region; Zambia’s Electoral Management Body (EMB) is among the few that are highly respected and envied. ECZ is one of the few EMBs that has shown some resemblance of autonomy, impartiality and independence in Southern Africa and has endeavored to promote the spirit of consultations, transparency and openness to all stakeholders. Since 2011, the ECZ has seemingly reclaimed public confidence and trust and it will be sad for the country to lose such an honor just for political mileage and benefits. There is need therefore, to give credit where it is due. It is for this reason that we appeal to all stakeholders to exercise great restraint towards their attack on the Commission and if there are some weaknesses they have observed in the enforcement of the Electoral Code, Electoral Act or indeed any regulation, we implore them to use the relevant structures. Most of the complainants are part of bodies such as National Voter Education Committee (NVEC), Political Party Liaison Committee, National Conflict Management Committee among others. Regarding the issue at hand, we feel that other avenues could be used to address the lacunas and other weaknesses in the Act, its administration and enforcement. In this regard, we call on the PF government to implement its promise in the manifesto of reviewing the Electoral Act No. 12 of 2006 which will go a long way in strengthening our electoral process and ensure that we continue to enjoy our peace and security as a country. We also call on the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to be proactive in the fight against Electoral Corruption. This could be a sure way of averting the costly by-elections. The judiciary too, should play its role in enforcing the provisions of the electoral Act vis-à-vis the prevention and fight against Corruption. It has become so costly to fight historical corruption in this country. Therefore, the call for a strengthened electoral process in Zambia requires that all stakeholders play their role as provided for by our electoral laws. As organizations concerned with the electoral process in Zambia, we feel satisfied with the explanation by the ECZ why the Commission is unable to enforce Sections 22 and 104 of the Electoral Act No. 12 of 2006. It is for this reason that we stand with the ECZ in its efforts to restore impartiality, confidence and integrity in the electoral process. We pray for level headedness when debating the issue at hand and also fair criticism on the Commission. Finally, if the reports we have heard that ECZ has suspended the three by-elections are true, we wish to commend the ECZ for suspending the holding of the three by-elections namely Petauke, Malambo and Mulobezi is a welcome move under the given circumstances. We would have wished to see to that even Mkaika is suspended until these issues are resolved because holding one by-election will give undue advantage to some political parties. We are keenly watching the development in the electoral process ahead of the September 5 We wish to indicate here that we will soon launch an Electoral Support Network, which will be a civil society consortium concerned with election and electoral processes. We Thank You!