PRISCILLA MWILA, Lusaka
THE Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), which was established in 1996, was supposed to instil confidence in the electoral process. But it has not been smooth-flowing.
All the five general elections it has delivered since 1996 have almost been disputed by those on the losing side. That includes the two presidential elections held in 2008 and 2015 following the deaths of Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Sata respectively.
In 1996, the main opposition, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) boycotted the general elections because they thought the Mwanakatwe Constitution was intended to bar its leader, former President Kenneth Kaunda, from standing. However, the main opposition remaining, Dean Mung’omba’s Zambia Democratic Congress (ZADECO), and Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika’s Agenda for Zambia (AZ) all disputed the outcome of the elections in which Frederick Chiluba’s Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) came out with a landslide.
It was the same case with the 2001 general elections which ushered in Levy Mwanawasa of the MMD as President. The main opposition, Anderson Mazoka’s United Party for National Development (UPND), Godfrey Miyanda’s Heritage Party (HP) and Christon Tembo’s Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) all contested the outcome of the elections.
In the 2006 elections, it was the turn of Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) to contest the outcome of the elections which gave Mwanawasa a second term as President. It was the same case in the 2008 presidential elections when Rupiah Banda succeeded Mr Mwanawasa as President.
Simply put, that has pretty much been the pattern.
That is perhaps why the recently launched strategic plan for the ECZ covering the current period upto to 2022 should come in handy.
The strategic plan aims at delivering efficient and credible elections in future.
The strategic plan also spells out some of the successes and challenges the commission has faced in the past.
Some of these challenges have been highlighted by outside entities such as the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) in its assessment of the electrical process following the 2016 general elections.
The EU mission urged various reforms to improve future elections in the country. It is one of the many organisations that have made recommendations to ECZ.
Some of the recommendations made include the need for the commission to ensure that political parties and civil society organisations have access to the final voter register well in advance of the elections. ECZ should also publish individual polling station results for all elections in a timely manner.
The EU EOM also recommended that the results management system should be assessed for accuracy, timeliness and transparency.
Now in its strategic plan, ECZ will in the next four years focus on a number of areas to ensure successful management of future electoral processes.
The commission intends to enhance efficiency in the management of elections through effective implementations of the electoral processes by 2022.
To achieve the above objective, ECZ will update various regulations relating to the electoral process in order to have an updated legal framework for improved electoral services.
The commission will among other things undertake a delimitation exercise to come up with electoral boundaries to make registration and polling stations more accessible to voters.
ECZ will acquire a new voter register to facilitate the establishment of an accurate and updated register of voters. It will also create additional storage facilities for election materials at headquarters in all the 116 districts.
It plans to link voter registration database to the Department of National Registration, Passport and Citizenship Civil Register to facilitate improved voter registration and remove deceased people from the register.
The commission is also committing itself to declaring presidential results within 72 hours after the close of voting at the last polling station.
To improve stakeholder confidence and participation in the electoral process, ECZ will reach out to the public through various communication strategies such as voter education and outreach programmes.
This is because the commission believes that delivering credible elections requires building the support and trust of various stakeholders. ECZ will also embark on a number of activities to improve its corporate image.
It will also continuously improve skills, systems and governance and management of structures to achieve operational efficiency and effectiveness.
ECZ chairperson Esau Chulu says the commission plans to explore ways of creating an online voter registration system ahead of the 2021 general elections.
Justice Chulu said ECZ recognised that majority of voters in the next general polls will be young people who are technologically minded and wants to reach them together with those with limited time to visit voter registration centres.
“We also conducted a research on the causes of increased number of rejected ballot papers and voter apathy during the 2016 general elections and the referendum. The consolidation of results is currently ongoing and findings of the survey will be shared once the analysis is finalised,” he says.
“We are now on a trajectory of incapacitating the lessons learnt from previous elections and finding ways of improving future electoral processes.
“We have also held public forums in nine provinces. The last forums will take place in Lusaka next month. The public forums are meant to engage the public on electronic process matters and receive feedback on areas which need improvement.”
Justice Chulu says the strategic plan was developed with the vision of ensuring that the commission performs its mandate of becoming a model electoral management body, which not only inspires Zambians, but also other electoral management bodies and people around the world.
House of Chiefs chairperson Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta, a former politician and UNIP vice-president, believes the plan is a milestone in demonstrating unity of purpose.
Chief Inyambo Yeta says the electoral system of the country should be embraced and inculcated in a naturalistic culture that promotes positive and constructive criticism.
“We should be proud that our electoral process has been given accolades by other electoral management bodies. We need to encourage these efforts that are aimed at improving the electoral process,” he said in a speech read for him by House of Chiefs vice chairperson Chieftainess Mwenda.
Chief Inyambo Yeta urged stakeholders to support ECZ and make the required resources available to implement the plan and achieve its intended goals.
*Next Monday, read more about what ECZ is doing to improve stakeholder confidence.
PRISCILLA MWILA, Lusaka