By Elias Munshya
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has a very fancy and lofty leader in Justice Esau Chulu. Just a few weeks ago, the elections body claimed to have put together a body of eminent Zambians to advise the constitutionally elected body. However, what we see coming from the ECZ has the potential of churning our country into chaos. No one seems to be there to steer this electoral body to some common-sense solutions. The body of eminent advisers it appointed is as toothless as a Legana sausage, or beans, depending on who is cooking.
ECZ is not taking the issuance of new NRCs to Zambians who qualify seriously. ECZ cannot hide behind the inefficiencies of the Ministry of Home Affairs. It should come out in the open and hold Home Affairs accountable. We have heard reports that the mobile issuance of NRCs has been halted in the south of the country because among other reasons – the machines used have broken down. We are curious as to why the machines worked exceptionally well in the north, but somehow, upon crossing the Kafue River, they ceased to operate. ECZ should engage the Ministry of Home Affairs and make it clear that such discrimination and blatant tribalism and regionalism should not be tolerated.
Regarding the registration of voters, we now understand that the ECZ will depend on the use of online registration and cellphones to register new voters. Of course, the introduction of technology into the registration of voters is positively praiseworthy, only if it can work. In this regard, registration of voters must be efficient and accessible. The use of cellphones may work for those people who have cell phones. However, we still have a good section of Zambians with no phones, no network, and certainly no internet access. How will ECZ account for all these voters? Some estimates are putting the potential voting population to be around 9 million people. It remains to be seen how ECZ plans to register this number of voters, many of whom actually do not own a cellphone.
ECZ is claiming that it will create a new electoral register. It appears like ECZ is making rules as it goes. It has no principles it is adhering to at all. How can you justify this idea of preparing a new register? Why cannot it use the current register, adapt it to 2021 needs and then add new electors to the list? Just on Monday, the ECZ public relations manager issued a statement claiming that those who are eligible to register this year but choose not to register as voters, will lose the right to vote in the future elections. It appears like ECZ is violating the law by restricting the right to vote of those citizens who may, for one reason, or another fail to register this year.
To ensure free and fair elections, ECZ must forthwith come up with a plan to redeem itself. First, it should revise the one-month period allotted to the verification and registration of voters. One month is not sufficient to capture the millions of voters readying themselves for next year’s elections. Second, ECZ should immediately ask the Ministry of Home Affairs to be fair in its issuance of NRCs. Third, ECZ should be clear about how people will register as voters. For example, ECZ has issued a statement that everyone eligible to vote must register afresh. However, this information contradicts their website which states categorically that, “If you registered before the 2011 elections and you have not changed your name, or address, you do not need to register again. Your voter’s card is still valid.” Which is which? Are people required to register afresh? ECZ must come clean on this. Lastly, ECZ must ensure that it curtails political violence to ensure free and fair elections.
Elias Munshya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.