How can elections be free or fair when…?

It will be impossible to put the 2016 elections behind and focus on 2021 if the issues that gave rise to disputes about them are not cleared away.

It’s not difficult to see that our elections are seriously flawed. How can elections that are directly and indirectly managed by one of the key competitors be free and fair?
The president, his political party and government appoint all members of the Electoral Commission of Zambia. These in turn, and in conjunction with the president or his agents, appoint the director and other senior staff of the Electoral Commission of Zambia. And together with the president and his other appointees, they set the electoral rules and administer the whole electoral process.

It is them and them alone – they appoint the election contest referees and their assistants, match commissioners and so on and so forth. And it is also very important to appreciate the fact that the Electoral Commission of Zambia is a very small unit which on its own cannot manage to run an election. The Electoral Commission of Zambia relies heavily on civil servants in the ministries of local government, home affairs, education, health, agriculture and defence to manage elections. These are people who are directly under the control and direction of those in power. How can we have free and fair elections under such arrangements?
And even when the Electoral Commission of Zambia wanted to do things the right way, it has no control over these civil servants it is using; it can’t discipline them. The Electoral Commission cannot discipline police officers, intelligence officers, military officers and other civil and public servants it is using.

Organising free and fair elections is more important than the result itself. It’s very easy to deal with electoral disputes if elections are well organised and in a free, fair and transparent way. Today, we still have many electoral malpractices from last year’s elections that the Electoral Commission of Zambia cannot explain or resolve. The Electoral Commission has failed to explain the presence of that Ugandan – Samuel Chavula – who was caught at the tallying centre with its entry card and password. He has disappeared and his case is dead.

Decisions about key electoral processes like the printing of ballot papers are made by the Electoral Commission of Zambia, the president and his agents without input from the opposition and other stakeholders. All those who count and tally the votes are selected and engaged by the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the president and his agents. There’s completely no input from the opposition and other stakeholders on this.
Joseph Stalin said, “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

To reduce the possibility of protracted electoral disputes, there’s need to make the electoral process more inclusive and transparent. The appointment of all the commissioners, the director and other key staff of the Electoral Commission of Zambia must be a joint undertaking of all stakeholders. And all providers of election management services like printing of ballot papers, IT to the Electoral Commission of Zambia must be selected with the participation of all key stakeholders.
The consultations that we saw last year were more symbolic than practical and about things that really didn’t matter. And in those meetings, it was not difficult to notice that the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the ruling party and its government were one, were together.

It’s time our politicians realised that winning or losing an election is less important than strengthening the country. To finalise, the purpose of an election is to hear the will of the people, not to fabricate votes.

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