ELECTORAL Commission of Zambia vice chairperson Annette Nhekairo says the commission has observed with sadness the escalating levels of intolerance among political players.
During the opening of the traditional leaders meeting held in Mansa, Luapula Province, on Friday, Nhekairo said sadly, political players had also blatantly disregarded the provisions of the electoral laws with impunity.
“In fact, during the recently held local government by-elections some pockets of violence were reported in some areas. As a commission, we have therefore, resolved to enhance interaction with all stakeholders and members of the public to ensure understanding and appreciation of the Electoral Process and in the long run, it is hoped that there will be more adherence to all electoral laws by everybody,” she said.
Nhekairo said the meeting had been called in view of the forthcoming by-elections in Bahati Constituency and Chilyapa Ward of Mansa Central Constituency.
She said traditional leaders were an important because they were the custodians of cultural norms and traditions, from which people derive values.
“Regardless of our various backgrounds and origins, including politicians, we are all your subjects, as we all fall under traditional leaders in one way or the other from wherever we come from in Zambia and as such voters come from among your subjects,” Nhekairo said. “The chiefs and other traditional leaders, therefore, have an important role to play in the electoral process.”
She said the commission convened the meeting to ensure that traditional leaders understand their role in observing the Electoral Code of Conduct.
Nhekairo said many times, traditional leaders had been accused of intimidating, threatening, coercing or persuading their subjects to act or vote in a particular way politically and even going to an extent of threatening to banish their subjects from their areas if they did not vote in accordance with the wishes of such leaders.
She said this was not only unfortunate but illegal as well.
Nhekairo said other traditional leaders have been heard openly supporting particular political parties or candidates which must not be the case.
“You ought to treat all political players equally as your children without discrimination of any kind. Regulation 14 of the Electoral Code of Conduct of the electoral process Act No. 35 of 2016 prohibits any individual or organisation from coercing or intimidating another person during campaigns, public debates or elections. This provision includes among others, traditional leaders. A traditional leader is defined as ‘a Paramount Chief, Senior Chief, Chief or village headman’ (of course including a village headwoman),” she said. “Further, Article 168 (2) of the Constitution of Zambia Chapter One of the Laws of Zambia forbids chiefs from joining or participating in partisan politics. It reads: A Chief who seeks to hold office in a political party or election or appointment to a state, except that of Councillor, shall abdicate the chief’s throne. Remember that what you say or how you behave may be construed that you belong or support a particular political party or a particular candidate.”
Nhekairo said on Thursday April 11, 2019, the commission would be conducting the Bahati Constituency parliamentary by-elections and Chilyapa ward by-elections.
She urged chiefs to avoid playing an active part in the campaigns or to openly support any particular candidate or political party participating in the said elections.
She urged them to ensure that their subjects were law abiding and respect other people’s opinions.
“Difference of opinion, be it political or otherwise, should never be allowed to cause divisions among your people. Holding of this by-election must not be a source of violence, hatred or indeed any other vices. It must be used as an opportunity for the electorate to choose or elect their preferred representative in Parliament,” she said.
Nhekairo pleaded with the traditional leaders to appeal to their subjects to avoid engaging themselves in acts of violence and behaviours, which were likely to lead to anarchy in the country.
She also urged traditional leaders and their subjects to vote in the elections.
“Remember to remain non-partisan in your deeds and words, but kindly prevail on your subjects to conduct themselves peacefully as they go about with their campaign programmes. I must hasten to mention here that some parliamentary seats were successfully challenged and nullified in the courts of law on account of violence. It is my prayer that this will not be the case here in Mansa district,” said Nhekairo.