To most people rigging an election refers to ballot rigging only. However the greatest damage happens way before the polling day. That is why someone once said, rigging elections on polling day is for amateurs. Rigging can be defined as arranging the electoral environment and process to favour a particular deceitful outcome. That is why ballot rigging can only affects thousands of votes, but systematic rigging can affect millions of votes using a forced low turnout.
Here are the ten ways the new defacto dictator at ECZ, Patrick Nshindano, has started rigging the 2021 elections.
1. GERRYMANDERING VIA NEW VOTER REGISTER
Gerrymandering is the division of voting constituencies to favour a particular candidate. Since the old register has worked fairly well, the ECZ need a new register that will give constituent advantage to Patriotic Front using different forms of manipulation. We have already seen how Home Affairs Minister is doing something similar through NRC registration. Manipulations will include deliberate errors, duplications, omissions or polling station misplacements aimed at denying people their voting rights or assigning them distant polling stations in PF weakholds. The question ECZ is not answering is why they don’t want to maintain the old register and save time, save money and reduce risk of errors. Nshadano is dodging that question like okra dodges a lump of nshima.
2. VOTER DISENFRANCHISEMENT OR SUPPRESSION
ECZ is actively denying voting rights to citizens in several ways. The failure by ECZ over the eyars to have a continuous voter registration mechanism is one of them. The limited periods attached to voter registration are not only unconstitutional, but are prone to political interference, such as voter verification timing during the field preparation season. The illogicality of registering and physically verifying over 10 million voters in one month is suspicious and prone to errors designed to deprive voting rights. The window of addressing errors is also small and costly for voters who will need to travel. ECZ has also been biased by affording murderers, mwankoles, robbers and rapists voting rights, while denying people in the diaspora the same. The failure by Nshindano to agree with stakeholder on these matters, proves he is under instructions and is adamant to deliver that new voter roll.
3. ELECTORAL VIOLENCE IMPUNITY
When Nshindano was asked why he did not take action over the violence that marred Chilubi bye-elections, his response was that he never received any complaint. This was despite ECZ having evidence of violence and powers to punish offenders or nullify elections. Does a security guard wait for the owners to scream, when he sees a thief breaking into a property? This attitude displayed by ECZ shows that they are unwilling to curb PF violence and are indirectly helping PF recruit its militia. Nshindano is either a weakling or abettor of PF’s systematic violent repression designed to intimidate the opposition.
4. INACTION ON VOTE BUYING BY PATRIOTIC FRONT
According to the electoral code of conduct, section 7, prohibitions are listed, which among them include defamation of rivals, violence, tribal remarks, use of government resources and voter buying. All these prohibitions have been committed by PF and ECZ, the institution charged with policing them is sleeping. Bye-election after bye-election Nshindano has failed to address these malpractices. How the whole ECZ is getting overrun by a simple DMMU coordinator should worry all citizens on the strength of Nshindano’s spine. Again, it is either Nshindano is weak or abetting the breach of the electoral code.
5. DEFUNDING THE ELECTROAL COMMISSION
Nshindano has taken a suspicious and effortless position on the underfunding of 2021 elections. Nshindano’s pre-determination that 2021 elections are underfunded came before the 2021 national budget and before stakeholders and donors were consulted. Why would a person charged with delivering free and fair elections be making that call? Why is it his business how much Zambians want to spend on elections? Nshindano is using this excuse to limit ballot printing inspections as well as other counterchecking activities such as wide consultations, that ensure credible elections.
6. PRE-DETERMINED BALLOT PAPER PRINTING BIDDING
Nshindano again caught himself in a web of bias and conflict of interest by assuming ballots will be printed in Dubai way before even the bids for 2021 ballot printing were received and evaluated. Why would he think in that manner, if not because he had prior information or instructions on who should win the bid. Why are bids for printing only subjected to price affordability while denying other considerations that ensure fair elections?
7. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRE-EMPTION OF ELECTION RESULTS ACCEPTANCE
On an interview on Prime TV, Nshindano claimed the 2021 elections would be tight and that was more than one year before elections and before we even know the official candidates. Why would Nshindano make such a prediction? This level of bias suggests Nshindano is planning to assist PF rig the elections, with a new strategy most pseudo-democracies are using across the world of tight margins. Nshindano is telling voters elections will be tight, so that when that happens, people can easily accept them.
8. DELAYED CORRECTIVE ACTIONS VIA REPETITIVE CONSULTATIONS
Nshindano has not applied an open policy in addressing stakeholder concerns. He is not proactive in including the stakeholders in ECZ decisions. Key decisions have not involved stakeholder input such as nominations fees, ballot printing, voter registration and campaign scheduling. His response to public queries has been to invite people for a chat at his office. Nshindano appears not to know what he is doing or what ought to be done and keeps ambushing stakeholders with unilateral decisions. This is creating a perception that he is under instructions. If Nshindano was an upright ECZ chief, he would forthcoming with his responses to factual allegations and concerns by stakeholders.
9. ONLINE VOTER REGISTRATION GLITCHES
Before I could conclude this article I woke up to the news that the online registration is already experiencing glitches. While this is normal in IT, it is worrying to everyone especially that there was no proper justification to have a new voters register and limited time for it. Such online glitches will certainly disenfranchise voters and exclude those with no computer literacy. The most efficient thing was for ECZ to continue with the old register, and only use the online facility new voters and verifications. That is the cheapest, quickest and less risk approach however one looks at it.
TIMELY ADVICE FOR NSHINDANO
The crime of abuse of office is stinking around him and his officers, with every unilateral decision he is making and non-compliance to the electoral code of conduct. And this is not a threat but a timely warning. He is safer in the hands of the law and Zambians than under politicians instructions.
Look out for article on how citizens can fight back the rigged system, with strong lesson from Malawi’s effective civic mobilization.