Commission of Inquiry on Voting Patterns and Electoral Violence chairperson Munalula Lisimba says in a democratic dispensation like Zambia, the electoral process has to be transparent and reflect the will of the people that vote in any election. Elections which are manipulated through violence and intimidation cannot be said to reflect the will of the people. Elections in which the police manipulate the administration of the public order Act to deny the opposition the opportunity to at all times freely mobilise public support cannot be said to reflect the will of the people.
In the way the public order Act is today administered by the police, it’s not possible to have elections that can be said to be truly a reflection of the will of the people.
And here we shouldn’t look only at the time of elections. We to look at the administration of the public order Act at all times. Today, it’s very difficult for the opposition to meaningfully mobilise public support. The police, working with the ruling Patriotic Front, is making it very difficult for the opposition to carry out meaningful political mobilisation work among the masses. Look at the conduct of the police in Mwinilunga where they were literally following Harry Kalaba everywhere he went, including at church, and chasing him out of the district!
Indeed, transparency is a key principle for credible elections. A transparent election process is one in which each step is open to scrutiny by stakeholders – political parties, election observers and voters alike – who are able to independently verify that the process is conducted according to procedures and no irregularities have occurred. Providing transparency in an election helps establish trust and public confidence in the process, as voters have a means to verify the results are an accurate reflection of the will of the people.
What many people may not understand is that the transparency in voting is not something that we earn or have to work towards, transparency in voting is our right as Zambians.
If democracy is a painting created by its own audience, democracy without transparency is that audience blindfolded — trusting and hoping and not really knowing if they are having democracy at all.
Elections are the public act through which you assemble your democratic governance, and elections are only public when you and everyone else can fully participate. Full participation means you can choose to run for office, openly campaign, vote, and exercise oversight. Without public oversight you can participate in only the first few elements; it is elections in the dark, controlled by someone else, hopeful thinking rather than true participatory governance.
Public oversight starts with transparency in voting. Election transparency is the public ability to see and verify each essential step in elections.
Credible elections are characterised by inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, and competitiveness.
Inclusive elections provide equal opportunities for all eligible citizens to participate as voters in selecting their representatives and as candidates. This right to participate is a broad concept and can only be subject to reasonable restrictions. And steps must be taken to assess and remove any barriers to the participation of all citizens. This includes removing barriers brought in by the unfair, unjust administration of the public order Act.
Elections are transparent when each step is open to scrutiny, and stakeholders can independently verify whether the process is conducted honestly and accurately. The principle of transparency is linked to the fundamental right of citizens to seek, receive and impart information – which are elements of the freedom of expression – as well as the right to take part in government and public affairs. Decision making processes must be open to scrutiny, and reasonable opportunities for public input should be provided. Information relating to all stages of the electoral cycle must be made available and accessible to citizens, including voters and candidates. Non-partisan and partisan observers should be accredited to observe all phases of the election process and be permitted to comment publicly on the process free from unreasonable restriction.
Accountability in elections refers to the rights of citizens with respect to the conduct of other electoral stakeholders, including the government, the police, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, political parties, and candidates. Elections are a key mechanism through which citizens hold their governments accountable, but there must also be accountability within election processes themselves. There must be effective remedies in place for violations of citizens’ election-related rights. There must also be administrative accountability for those organising elections and those conducting governmental activities related to elections. In addition, there must be timely procedures to bring to account those who conduct criminal acts that affect electoral-related rights.
Elections are competitive when citizens have reasonable and equitable opportunities to compete to be elected to governmental offices. Political competition is a central component of elections that truly reflect the will of the people. The principle of competitiveness relates to aspects of the election throughout the electoral cycle. The legal framework must allow citizens to come together and register political parties to represent their interests, and provide access to spots on the ballot for parties and/or candidates. Parties and candidates must be able to campaign and voters to cast their ballots free from illegal influence, intimidation or violence.