By E. Munshya wa Munshya
After Zambia’s elections of 2011, the party that won the elections, the Patriotic Front (PF) decided to petition dozens of seats won by the opposition parties. Among other reasons for so petitioning, the PF contended that these particular seats had been won either fraudulently or corruptly. Among the seats petitioned are those of close associates of former president Dr. Rupiah Banda who had lost the presidential election to the Patriotic Front’s Michael Chilufya Sata.
The Supreme Court of Zambia nullified the election of Dora Siliya for Petauke, Mutolo Phiri for Chipata Central, and Maxwell Mwale for Malambo. Several other seats were also nullified triggering by-elections in all these constituencies. Some sections of Zambian society have held rather than good will, the PF triggered these by-elections so that they could get the needed majority in parliament to have Zambia revert back to the dark ages of the UNIP dictatorship.
There has been debate about whether under the current electoral laws; a candidate whose election is nullified can stand for re-election in the nullified seat. This question became even more heated after the ruling Patriotic Front accused the Electoral Commission of Zambia of flouting electoral regulations by allowing the nullified candidates to recontest their seats. In addition to the ruling party, a local civil society organization, the Transparency International also asked the ECZ to bar the likes of Dora Siliya, Maxwell Mwale or even Mutolo Banda from re-contesting their seats since the Supreme Court had nullified their elections.
At the heart of this dilemma is the provision from Section 22 (b) of the Electoral Act of 2006 which states, inter alia, that:
Any person who is convicted of any corrupt practice or illegal practice or who is reported guilty of any corrupt practice or illegal practice by the High Court upon the trial of an election petition under this Act shall not be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly for a period of five years from the date of the conviction or of the report, as the case may be.
Obviously, the Patriotic Front is interpreting this provision to mean that people like Dora Siliya whose election to parliament were nullified by the courts of law should be barred from re-contesting. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) on the other in a statement released 1 August 2013, has argued that the ECZ can only act to bar candidate if the High Court provides to the ECZ a report pursuant to Section 104 of the Electoral Act 2006. Section 104 (6) and (7) of the Electoral Act 2006 states as follows:
(6) Where it appears to the High Court upon the trial of an election petition that any corrupt practice or illegal practice has been committed by any person in connection with the election to which the election petition relates, the High Court shall, at the conclusion of the proceedings, prepare a report stating—
(a) The evidence given in the proceedings in respect of the corrupt practice or illegal practice;
(b) The names and particulars of any person by whom the corrupt practice or illegal practice was, in the opinion of the Court, committed:
Provided that the Court shall not state the name of any person under this paragraph unless the person has been given an opportunity of appearing before the Court and of showing cause why that person’s name should not be so stated.
(7) The Registrar shall deliver a copy of every report prepared by the High Court under subsection (6) to—
(a) the Commission; and
(b) the Director of Public Prosecutions.
(8) The Commission shall, as soon as it receives the report under subsection (7), instruct an officer to prosecute any person stated in the report.
It is my opinion that the ECZ’s interpretation of section 22 using section 104 is correct at law. As such, for reasons presented below, I would hold that it was never the intention of Zambia’s electoral laws to disqualify any candidate from re-contesting a nullified seat without further instruction and deliberation from the High Court.
The Civil and Criminal Law Distinction
To clear the confusion, we must first begin by differentiating between the goals of two different aspects of legal suits tenable in the Zambian judicial system: a civil suit or a criminal suit. Each of these come with different remedies and in fact, has different goals. As such, in order to understand the desired outcome of any legal suit, it would be important to first understand its categorization at law. A criminal offence is usually aimed at punishing an offender and is commenced by the state against an offender. An interested party who takes another party to court to seek specific or general remedies on the other hand initiates a civil case. In the context of an electoral petition, a petitioner asks the court to nullify the election of a respondent. The parties to an electoral petition are private individuals contesting competing rights to a seat in parliament.
Criminal law on the other hand has different goals in mind. It seeks to punish offenders for specific offences that have been proscribed through the Penal Code and other laws. According to the constitution of Zambia, the Director of Public Prosecutions is the primary officer that prosecutes criminal offences in Zambia.
That being the case, it is clear that Section 102 (3) of the Electoral Act of 2006 specifically mandates the High Court to “exercise such powers within its civil jurisdiction as it may deem appropriate.” This provision, therefore, shows that the main element of an electoral petition is civil rather than criminal.
Having established that electoral petitions are primarily civil suits, the next issue to deal with concerns remedies. In most cases, a petitioner asks the High Court to nullify an election based on several grounds. The petitioner primarily contends that the election was not free and fair. Based on the evidence she provides, she can then have the court rule in her favour and nullify the election of a respondent.
This then brings us to the question of the standard of proof. In a civil case, the standard of proof needed to prove a case is a balance of probability. This means that it is more likely than not that evidence rendered proves a particular point. However, the Zambian Supreme Court has raised the standard of proof needed in electoral petitions. In the case of Lewanika and Others v Chiluba and in the newer case of Sikota v. Mabenga the Supreme Court ruled that the appropriate standard for proof in electoral petitions should be slightly higher than civil case’ balance of probabilities but must be below the criminal threshold of “proof beyond reasonable doubt.”
Indeed, there is not standard higher than “proof beyond reasonable doubt.” This standard is used in criminal proceedings. The reason for a higher standard in criminal proceedings is that no innocent person should be punished for a crime they never committed and that it is in the interest of justice that the State which has almost unlimited resources should be able to gather all resources necessary to prove its case.
Having dealt with some background information above, I must now turn to the question of whether the drafters of the Electoral Act intended to disqualify candidates from re-contesting their seats. To do so we must focus on the actual text of the Electoral Act.
According to section 22 of the Electoral Act there are several categories of people and situations that would lead to a candidate being unqualified.
Criminal Conviction Bars A Candidate
First, any person who is convicted of any corrupt practice or illegal practice shall not be qualified. Without further complications, this provision does seem to contemplate a clear criminal procedure. If a person is convicted of any corrupt practice or illegal practice, they are then disqualified. The term conviction is used only in the context of criminal proceedings. It is ridiculous to say that a person was “convicted” in a purely civil matter. The correct term to use in civil cases is “liability” or terms to that effect.
Specifically, when it comes to bribery and corruption, it is the DPP and the Anti-Corruption Commission who can bring a bribery or corruption case against a particular candidate. The ACC Act of 2012 (s.35 (1)) provides thus:
(1) The Commission has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute any offence of bribery prescribed under section seventy-nine of the Electoral Act, 2006.
It is Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2006 that explains further punishment for those convicted of an “illegal practice”. The guilty shall be liable on, conviction, to a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand penalty units or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or to both.
Again to reiterate here, once a candidate is convicted not only would they not qualify to stand for re-election, they would also face jail time. Just as stated above, it is important to differentiate what is going on in a criminal trial and what obtains in a civil case. It is impossible to have a criminal trial within the context of an electoral petition. What an electoral petition can do is to make specific recommendations and observations upon which the DPP may make independent Judgement of whether he could proceed to charge the offender with criminal offences.
“Report” From the High Court Can Bar A Candidate
The second category of people disqualified are those who are “reported guilty” of any corrupt practice or illegal practice by the High Court upon the trial of an election. The first limb of section 22 is quite clear; any one convicted is not qualified. In the second limb however, very interesting words are used. For a person to qualify under this limb, they must have been “reported guilty”. The first one was to do with conviction, while the second limb deals with “report.” This report is only explained in Section 104 of the Electoral Act of 2006 as being the report that the High Court makes to the ECZ. And so, it is expected that if during the electoral petition, the High Court find reasons why a respondent should be “reported”, the High Court will then send the ECZ evidence and transcripts and report such a candidate. The consequence of a report triggers either a criminal prosecution by the DPP or a disqualification from contesting further elections.
The challenge, the “report” provides is that, it emanates from a civil case – that is it emanates from an electoral petition and yet has consequences similar to criminal convictions for corruption. In the case of Sikota v Mabenga, the court held that even if the case was of a civil nature, the respondent’s actions where so outrageous that they bordered on criminality. In its Judgement, the Supreme Court even went to the extent of recommending the prosecution of Mr. Michael Mabenga for corruption and theft of CDF funds. It is this kind of clear Judgement, which in my opinion triggers the application of S.104 (7) of the Electoral Act. Without categorical report about corruption from the High Court, it would be difficult for the Electoral Commission of Zambia to act and bar a candidate.
Without clear guidelines from the High Court that a candidate did in fact participate in some form of corruption or bribery of theft, it would be unfair to disqualify them from contesting their vacant seats. On the other hand, if a candidate has been convicted of corruption or stuff like that, then they must not stand as candidates. As for Dora Siliya, Michael Sata and Wynter Kabimba should prepare to meet her in Petauke as their “catch 22” has failed.
(c) 2013, Elias Munshya wa Munshya is not a member of the Zambian Bar. Specific legal advise should be sought from members of the bar. This article is for educational purposes only and does not intend to convey legal advise.