Parallel votes tabulation is good for Zambia

By Hellen Muzyamba

Trust is both a psychological and logical act. Psychologically, it is where you expose your vulnerabilities to people, all the while believing that they will not take advantage of your sincerity.

Rationally or logically, it is where you have weighed both your negative and positive outcomes,  analysing what you hope to get later based on hard performance data, and concluded that the subject in question will behave in a predictable manner. We feel trust.

Emotions associated with trust include companionship, friendship, love, agreement, relaxation, comfort.Unfortunately, if it was not clear before, it is now clear that the Electoral Commission of Zambia, ECZ, does not invoke many of the emotions associated with trust.Increasing calls for a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) system during this year’s tripartite elections by some Civil Society Organisations, opposition political parties and ordinary citizens are a clear indication of mistrust in the ECZ and, to some extent, the entire electoral process.

While it is apparent that the proponents of a PVT system want it because they are convinced that if left alone, the Rupiah Banda administration will exploit its incumbency to perpetuate the MMD’s stay in power, those opposed to the system are failing to adequately provide an assurance that the election results will not be altered.According to Wikipedia, the PVT is an election observation methodology that is employed for independent verification (or challenge) of election results.

It involves observation of the voting and counting of ballots at the polling stations, collection of official polling station results and independent tabulation of these results, parallel to election authorities. If the PVT is performed on statistical sample of the polling stations, it is called Quick CountBack in 1990, the long period of one-party rule under the United National Independence Party (UNIP) had planted distrust and at that point, the MMD made independent election observing a condition for its electoral participation, and international donors let it be known that they were willing to support an observation effort.

Though it did not happen overnight, Dr Kenneth Kaunda obliged to the demands. For the then Organisation Of African Union (OAU), the Zambian elections marked the organization’s first expedition into election observation in a sovereign African country, as it sent a representative to participate in a pre-election mission led by U.S President Jimmy Carter to observe the elections.

By far the largest international presence was the Zambia Voting Observation Team (Z-Vote) assembled jointly by the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). Z-Vote conducted two parallel programmes to support electoral fairness in Zambia: a comprehensive international observation presence and a scheme of training and advice for domestic election monitors.Back then, two distinct groups existed: initially, the Zambia Independent Monitoring Team (ZIMT) and, later on, the Zambia Elections Monitoring Coordinating Committee (ZEMCC) which comprised the Christian Churches Monitoring Group, the Law Association of Zambia, the National Women’s Lobby Group, the Press Association of Zambia, the University of Zambia Students’ Union and the NGO Coordinating Committee. The church group was itself a coalition of the country’s three leading denominations: the Zambia Episcopal Conference, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia and the Christian Council of Zambia.

On the day of elections, both international observers and domestic monitors visited polling stations, monitored counting centres and conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation, PVT.

According to documented evidence, at some point when it became clear that domestic monitoring groups would not be organized in time to ensure that vote counting would be done transparently, Z-Vote took the initiative to have a PVT, making Zambia’s election the first occasion that a private group of international observers independently conducted such a count.

The PVT was designed with the help of Zambian demographers and statisticians to produce a representative sample of actual results from 350 polling sites, representing about 10 per cent of eligible voters.  By election night, ZEMCC volunteers had fanned out across the country in order to transmit results from the selected sites. By the morning of Friday 1 November when Zambian television newscasters were announcing results from the first two reporting constituencies, the PVT headquarters in Lusaka had already received results from 12 per cent of its sample.

Over the years, issues of mistrust have continued. In 1996, the main controversy was around voter registration, with the register being prepared by an Israeli computer company, Nikuv.Skipping the elections in between and turning to the most recently held presidential election in 2008, the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) conducted a PVT and even though its results tallied with the ECZ, there were concerns that combining the counting of multiple polling streams reduced the transparency of the process. In a statement released on November 1, 2008, before the ECZ officially announced the poll results, FODEP noted that of polling districts with multiple streams, 80 percent counted votes in a single counting exercise, despite assurances by then director of the ECZ that he would direct that counting be done individually at each stream. Given the past, therefore, it is misleading for President Rupiah Banda to say that a PVT is alien to Zambia. Whether the system is a recipe for post election anarchy is, perhaps, the greater issue of debate.As the former president of FODEP, Stanley Mhango was quoted as saying in the Zambia Daily Mail recently, PVT would be acceptable if conducted by people with high integrity, with a proven record, and well versed in election monitoring.A great deal is at stake in election-observing in Africa because citizens and international donors alike increasingly grant legitimacy—and economic assistance—to African governments on the basis of whether they are constituted democratically.

Thus, it is important to analyse how election observation can be made as available, impartial and accurate as possible.One of the key stakeholders in this process is of course the ECZ, as they are the ones who should provide the information necessary to carry out a successful PVT, such as a list of all polling stations and information about how the official count is carried out. It is therefore very useful if a good working relationship exists early on in the process through open channels of communication. As a prerequisite, of the key things that the organisation carrying out the PVT needs to respect is the fact that the ECZ  is the only source of official results after the election, and that any other reports of results should not be treated as official.Since NDI was involved in the 1991 PVT and in 2008, funded FODEP for the same but advanced similar exercise, would it be wrong to assume that the inertia on the part of government to give room for the exercise is due to the supposed inclusion, this time around of the Press Freedom Committee of The Post (PFC), whom it views as a hostile watchdog, working against the government? Would the concerns be the same if again say, the Forum for Leadership Search or the African Methodist Episcopal Church sourced funding to do the same? The more government officials pronounce their dislike for the PVT exercise, the more suspicious the MMD becomes.

Ivory Coast, Kenya and Zimbabwe are not perfect examples as the system has not only been used in Zambia and not resulted in post-election anarchy but has been used in Ghana and most recently Uganda without incidence.

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