By Judith Mulenga CiSCA Acting Chairperson
The Civil Society Constitution Agenda (CiSCA) would like to refresh the memory of the Electoral Commission of Zambia that universal suffrage and the right to vote is not only a human right but is also guaranteed in our Constitution. Consequently, the management of the electoral process, including voter registration as per article 229 subsection 2 of our constitution, is not a charitable undertaking for ECZ to be making arbitrary decisions with impunity. Article 46 of our Constitution assures every Zambian citizen who has attained the age of 18 years the right to register as a voter. Our Bill of Rights within the purview of articles 20 and 21, warrants freedoms of association and expressions and voting for a preferred political party or candidate.
Additionally, Zambia is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), having ratified it in 1984. Article 25 of the covenant provides for every citizen the right and the opportunity, without unreasonable restrictions, or distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status of any differentiation to vote.
The Human Rights Committee that supervises governments’ implementation of the ICCPR reiterates that where there is need for voter registration, it should be done without imposing obstacles. As CiSCA, we submit that the lopsided registration blatantly skewed to advantage certain regions, not only flies in the face of both the human rights standards and our constitutional guarantees but is a subversion of the ECZ’s mandate. It is a very clear hallmark of inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
Notwithstanding the human rights and constitutional guarantees on the right to vote, the potential volatility of the upcoming 2021 elections is not lost on anyone in the nation and we suspect least of all on the ECZ, therefore, the tenets of transparency should not be glossed over. This calls for a serious commitment to openness, communication and accountability on the part of ECZ. Failure to do so reduces the credibility of the elections and consequently the results and the legitimacy of whoever takes power.
We demand that the allegations of the deliberate registration of more voters in PF strongholds by allocating more personnel for registration compared to perceived opposition strongholds should be thoroughly investigated and put to rest. Allegations of children being issued with NRCs and voters’ cards should also be investigated. The insistence on discarding of the 2016 existing voters roll with higher registered figures compared to the current lower registered figures should be resolved short of which we will assume that ECZ is compromised and bent on disenfranchising millions of Zambians. The ECZ set 9 million as the target number to be registered and we believe there was a rationale for that number, therefore, the focus is to attain 9 million registered voters so logically the registration period should be attached to the attainment of the target number. It is also not enough to just mention the total figures captured but we need disaggregated numbers by province in comparison to the population in each province so we assess the credibility of the new voters’ roll.
We also demand that ECZ explain the number of registration centers, registration officers per district or province and the basis on which number of registration centers per district/province is made. We are greatly concerned that in some cases, the low allocation of personnel has slowed down the registration. The failure by the ECZ to address this would give credence to allegations or suspicions that they are colluding with some parties to disenfranchise some voters.
There is no excuse for the ECZ Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer who all come from sectors that stand for legal and social justice and respect for human rights to aid or champion an agenda that clearly violates fundamental human rights. Time is running out, but it is not too late for the ECZ to correct this situation, if they really want to.