By Joyce Mukucha
As Zambians are heading to the polls today to choose president, Parliament and local representatives in a general election that analysts say will be a test for one of Africa’s pillars of democracy, the Election Resource Centre(ERC) in conjunction with the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) are observing the process together with local and international observers.
In a statement, ERC and WALPE applauded the people of Zambia for respecting the sanctity of their Constitution which calls for elections after every five years.
They stated that they were committed to support the resolve of the people of Zambia who have voted in by-elections that were conducted midway.
“We are further elated that they heed the call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) not to suspend democratic processes such as elections but ensure that such processes are conducted in adherence to protocols and regulations that prevent the further spread of the virus.
“We have noted the challenges faced during the voter registration process, the suspension of campaigns for some candidates and political parties12 and failure to comply with COVID19 protocols leading to suspension of campaigns3, the violence, and subsequent deployment of the army in Lusaka, the heavy-handedness of the state security on the media and activists. the blocking of some candidates to access communities for campaigns,” reads the statement.
The two organisations also noted that they are concerned by the low number of women contesting as candidates for the elections yet they are the majority of registered voters and the population of Zambia.
Furthermore, it has been highlighted that electoral stakeholders have raised concerns relating to the new electoral register among them being the refusal of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to have it independently audited.
“Our appeal to the electoral stakeholders and citizens of Zambia; We encourage all registered voters to turn out in their numbers to vote for candidates and political parties of their choice. Voting is a right provided for in the national laws, regional and international instruments.”
ERC and WALPE also called upon the Electoral Commission of Zambia to ensure that each and every citizen who is registered to vote and provides all the required documents is afforded the opportunity to vote and that their choices are respected and results are not unduly delayed.
“Additionally, we call on the ECZ to provide timely and accurate information to citizens in order to ensure that citizens and stakeholders are informed.”
The media has been urged to report responsibly, factually and offer political parties and candidates equal coverage and social media users have been encouraged to desisi from using harmful speech.
“We implore social media users to refrain from hatred, incitement,inflammatory messages, body shaming, name-calling trolling and online violence against women candidates as well as spreading false news and misinformation.”
The security services were encouraged to remain impartial and discharge their mandate without fear or favour.
“We encourage them to put the security and dignity of the people first and desist from using force and intimidatory tactics.”
To Civil Society Organizations, ERC and WALPE said,”Encouraged by the role that CSOs played in the run-up to election day, we implore them to keep providing non-partisan information, oversight of the electoral stakeholders and administration of the electoral processes.”
Political Parties and Candidates contesting in the election have been implored to restrain their supporters and desist from hate speech, incitement and inflammatory messages that may disturb the processes or administration of the election.
“We remind political parties that Zambia is greater than any of the individuals contesting the election. In this regard, stability and peace must be upheld ahead of narrow political interests.”
By Joyce Mukucha