The Carter Center is deeply concerned about key aspects of the 2016 Zambian electoral process in both the pre- and post-electoral period, especially the failure of Zambia’s institutions to provide a level playing field prior to election day and adequate due process to ensure a fair hearing and effective remedy for electoral petitions filed following the polls. Unfortunately, this represents a significant step backward for Zambia.
The Center’s limited election mission released a statement today highlighting some of its concerns. While it is difficult to quantify the precise impact of the flaws in the pre- and post-election periods, cumulatively these problems seriously undermine the integrity of Zambia’s electoral process and weaken public confidence in the country’s democratic institutions.
Overall, the 2016 elections represent a troubling departure from Zambia’s recent history of democratic governance. In this highly polarized and divisive environment, it is incumbent upon Zambia’s authorities and political leaders from all parties to play a constructive role to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions, lessen tensions, address divisions, and prevent post-electoral violence.
Pre-election Period and Election Day
The Center’s preliminary statement following the Aug. 11 elections noted that the pre-election campaign period was marred by the lack of a level playing field, including harassment of private media, the abuse of office by government ministers, and the application of the Public Order Act in ways that appeared to disadvantage the main opposition party, the United Party for National Development. The political and electoral environment was also characterized by heightened tensions between the ruling Patriotic Front and the opposition, and some instances of localized violence.
While the pre-election environment was significantly flawed, both Zambian citizen observers and multiple international observation missions reported that voting and counting processes were largely successful, with only relatively minor problems. Following an extended tabulation process, the Electoral Commission of Zambia announced the final results of the polls, which indicated that the ruling PF party candidate, President Edgar Lungu, had been elected with 50.35 percent of valid votes cast. His main competitor, Hakainde Hichilema, received 47.63 percent of the votes. Lungu’s vote total narrowly avoided a runoff election, which would have been required had no candidate received more than 50 percent of the valid votes. President Lungu was inaugurated on Sept. 13.
While the election commission inadequately managed public expectations regarding the vote tabulation, verification, and declaration processes, a parallel vote tabulation conducted by domestic observer Christian Churches Monitoring Group broadly affirmed that the official results were within a statistically credible range.
Post-election Petitions and Constitutional Court Decisions
Following the polls, the UPND lodged a petition with the newly formed Constitutional Court challenging the outcome of the presidential election. Although Zambia’s constitution requires the court to hear electoral petitions within 14 days of its filing, it is silent as to the timeframe in which the court is required to issue a ruling. The court failed to hear evidence on the merits of the petition and to rule on the validity of the election.
Much of the court’s deliberations were conducted in chambers, closed to the public. On Aug. 30, the court said that its calendar would be extended by five days, concluding on Sept. 8. However, it later reversed its position and required both sides to present their cases on Sept. 2, or calendar day 14. Opposition lawyers argued that there was insufficient time and withdrew from the case. The full court then stated that four additional days would be provided, two each for the sides to argue the merits. In a surprise ruling when it reconvened on Sept. 5, the court stated that its jurisdiction had ended at midnight on calendar day 14, and dismissed the UPND petition without hearing the case on its merits. The vote was three-two.
The end result of this decision is that the legal and judicial processes surrounding the presidential petitions failed to meet Zambia’s national and international obligations under the Zambian constitution, the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure due process, a fair hearing, and effective legal remedy.
On July 19, the Center deployed a limited election observation mission, focusing on the political and electoral environment of the campaign period; the legal framework; and electoral dispute-resolution mechanisms. The mission assessed the process based on Zambia’s national legal framework and international obligations for genuine democratic elections. The Center released its preliminary statement on Aug. 13. A final report will be released three months following the elections.
The Carter Center conducts election observation in accordance with the Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Election Observation adopted at the United Nations in 2005.