By Guess Nyirenda Executive Director OPERATION YOUNG VOTE
Operation Young Vote (OYV) notes and appreciates the mammoth mandate bestowed on the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) by the Republican Constitution, Electoral Process Act and the Electoral Commission of Zambia Act among other legislation. The ECZ, established by article 229 of the Constitution and the ECZ Act is mandated to among other things:organize elections and referenda, conduct and supervise voter registration, regulate the conduct of voters and candidates, accredit observers and party agents, delimit electoral constituency boundaries, conduct voter information and education, adjudicate disputes of an administrative nature and establish and maintain cooperation with political parties and other stakeholders.
While we acknowledge that the ECZ requires improvement in one or so area, we note on the other hand that the institution has gone an extra mile beyond that which is stipulated in the laws mentioned above in terms of its mandates. World-over there are benchmarks used as best practices in almost all areas and the elections and the electoral process are not exceptional.
The fact that Zambia is a multiparty democracy coupled with the legislation provided entail that all institutions, individuals and stakeholders especially the ECZ prioritize the welfare of all and common good through upholding the basic principles of democracy. Among the tenets of upholding these principles is the ensuring that conditions that promote democratic elections are made to thrive. Some of the conditions that qualify an election to be democratic are:
1. Proper administration of the electoral process – this is to ensure full and successful participation by the citizens, candidates and political parties; and
2. Accountability in managing the electoral process – the entire electoral cycle (the pre, during and post-election period and all their related programmes and activities) is open for all to see.
In our engagement with the stakeholders in the electoral process particularly and the citizens of Zambia in general, through you the press on whether or not the ECZ is right on its decision to stop sponsoring stakeholders to monitor the printing of ballot paper abroad, commencing with the ballot papers for the 2021 elections to be printed in Dubai.
As noted in the introduction above, the ECZ is a very important institution where the conduct and administration of the electoral process in Zambia is concerned. The ECZ, among its mandates is that of establishing and maintaining cooperation with political parties and stakeholders, without which none of the conditions that qualify an election to be democratic would be promoted let alone achieved. Indeed our conviction as OYV that the mandate of ECZ of establishing and maintaining cooperation with political parties and stakeholderscannot be achieved without engaging and consulting the stakeholders is justified. We believe it is inevitably critical and significant to engage and consult with stakeholders whenever drastic changes are made to the traditional ways Zambia has administered activities in the electoral process before public announcements are made to avoid creating unnecessary uproar and conflict.
The mandate and responsibility of the ECZ, at whatever level must be used to actualize the aspirations and common good of political parties, candidates and players in the electoral process particularly and generally and most importantly, the citizens.
In the wake of the decision by the ECZ to NOT sponsor stakeholders (political and civil society representative) to monitor the printing of ballot papers for the 2021 Presidential and General elections, it is inevitable that no stakeholder endevours and chooses to mislead themselves and others.
OUR CONVICTION ON THE SPONSORING OF BALLOT PAPER PRINTING MONITORS
From the outset on the matter, it must be made clear that there is no denial/prevention by the ECZ for and of the stakeholders to monitor the printing of the ballot papers for the 2021 elections. The ECZ has noted budgetary constraints and sustenance of the idea of sponsoring players to monitor the printing exercise. It is an unarguable fact that the tasks that areahead of us as a country generally and the ECZ particularly, of overhauling the entire voters’ roll to begin registering all voters anew, conducting of voter information and education among others are so overwhelming that every Kwacha channeled to such. As stakeholders, we must, while there is still enough time begin to mobilize funds from elsewhere and not the treasury so that we participate in this very important exercise of monitoring the printing of ballot papers. Complaining and on insisting to have ECZ continue to sponsor stakeholders using tax payers is not helping at all. We are champion the idea of austerity measures to save resources, on politicians in government. This point would be a good starting point for all stakeholders to experience the austerity measures.
Apart from the fact that the matter is unstainable, it is also a recipe for electoral conflict and anarchy in thatthe criteria of who those chosen to travel will always be questioned as political parties and other stakeholders have their own interests to serve. Remember the case of someone carrying a ballot from the prohibited place in some previous exercises.
As OYV we are of the conviction that the best practice where the window to monitor the process is still accessible, we must all use it by sponsoring ourselves in the same manner we send monitors and party agents for Civil Society Organisations and Political Parties respective to monitor the electoral process and elections locally.
We however want to appeal to the ECZ to enhance its mandate of establishing and maintaining cooperation with political parties and stakeholders through robust engagement and consultations. While we know that it is not mandatory for the ECZ to sponsor stakeholders to monitor the process of ballot paper printing from anywhere, we feel, to have avoided eyebrows and suspicions rising on the matter, behind the curtains talks could have been embarked upon. This would have made stakeholders not only understand but also own the decision announced by the ECZ.
ECZ should have applied the doctrine of winning/graduating someone from the usual, i.e. the way a baby is stopped from breastfeeding.
A decision has been made and they is no law that has been broken by the decision, however the most important part – the Continued Accessibility to Monitoring the process – which is a best practice is still available and must be utilized to the full.
It is very possible that political parties including the ruling party and other stakeholders can mobilize funds to sponsor their representatives to monitor the process in Dubai for the 2021 elections ballot paper printing and beyond.
With the foregoing OYV recommends the following:
- That the ECZ should endevour to engage and consult stakeholders on all matters pertaining to the Electoral Process and Elections to avoid unnecessary Electoral Conflict – this goes to say that even on this already made decision it would be great if the ECZ engaged stakeholders to make them appreciate the why and the how;
- That Political Parties, Politicians and Stakeholder must try at all costs to restrain their members and themselves respectively to blow this matter out of proportion as the most critical of monitoring the printing process has been retained save for the sponsorship;
- That all of us as stakeholders, political parties, CSOs, the media and citizens have a duty and responsibility to build the ECZ – and we must endevour to do so.
May God bless us all. Have a pleasant week ahead of you, I thank you all.