Hakainde Hichilema says it is unacceptable for the Electoral Commission of Zambia to announce that they will procure 2021 general elections ballot papers from Dubai without going to the people of Zambia to ask them for their mandate for their decision.
“Yes, one can claim that the mandate is enshrined in the electoral process Act. But it is critical issues like printing of ballot papers that need the people’s decision. Somewhat the Electoral Commission is ignoring the desires of the people of Zambia. I hear these issues every now and then that ‘we have powers to do this.’ [But] you can’t have powers to work against the people that are supposed to have given you the powers,” he says.
“Printing ballot papers is a controversial issue, if it’s not managed properly; it can lead to electoral disputes. It can lead to all sorts of things in a country, which is supposed to be a democracy. It’s been a tradition to allow citizens to have a view about where the ballot papers are printed from.”
Hichilema adds that confidentiality is an important component in the ballot paper printing process, as well as the credibility of the printer.
“There are printers in different countries in Africa that have been contested, questions have been raised about the integrity of those printers and therefore leading to an assumption of unfairness of an electoral process. We must take care of that,” he cautions. “Worry about the cost; how much will it cost the taxpayer to print ballot papers. It can never be a decision of the Electoral Commission to spend money, which belongs to the 17 million Zambians, willy-nilly. If you remember the last election 2016, there was a debate on [whether] to print in Dubai or in South Africa. The South African printer was cheaper but somehow, the Electoral Commission went to Dubai.”
He also asks: “what is the interest of the Electoral Commission in Dubai, which overrides the interests of the people of Zambia?”
“The country has been bankrupted by the PF and so, we need to save every penny. There is no way the electoral commission can talk arrogantly, the way we see it these days, to say ‘whether you like it or not, we’ll print in Dubai.’ The question is you are going to print in Dubai for whose interest? Then people will be left to speculate; is it for the interest of the people who work at the Electoral Commission [or] is it for the interest of those in public office – the PF?” wonders Hichilema.
“Whose interest would somebody arrogantly tell the owners of the electoral process – the Zambians – that ‘I would do what I want, whether you like it or not?’ Then it opens up debate [and] my conclusion here is that that must not be allowed to continue, citizens must not allow that to continue. These are issues which lead to a flawed electoral process [and] no one wants that to happen in 2021. We want free and fair elections in 2021!”
Indeed, what is motivating this arrogance by the ECZ?
For some time now, the ECZ is seen as a branch of the ruling party. Every time Zambia heads for general elections, the ECZ is embroiled in controversy – be it where it prints ballot papers, failure to monitor and regulate campaign schedules, and its ‘failure’ to count votes and announce election results fairly and timely. And nearly every election today is accompanied by a petition. On the other hand, officials at the ECZ project themselves as very powerful individuals!
It seems arrogance is a prerequisite for one to assume or to be appointed to some role or position at the Electoral Commission of Zambia. And creating unnecessary controversy before and during elections seem to be part of the job description of ECZ officials. Otherwise how can one explain this decision to print ballot papers in Dubai? Why is the ECZ now saying it won’t sponsor stakeholders to monitor printing of the ballot papers? They are arrogantly making decisions as if they raise their own money to function! Their sarcasm is really annoying, sickening.
Don’t they know that the most fundamental principle defining credible elections is that they must reflect the free expression of the will of the people? Don’t people at ECZ know that elections should be transparent, inclusive, and accountable, and that there must be equitable opportunities to compete in the elections?
And why is ECZ behaving in the manner it is today? In the last general election, the ECZ’s conduct was brought into question. The manner it handled the election, from campaign to the counting of ballots and announcement of results was seriously brought into question. The least the ECZ could do is exonerate itself from questions about its conduct.
But its recent pronouncements do little to allay people’s belief that they are neutral facilitators of our elections. With all the suspicions over theft of ballot papers, extra ballot papers being printed, stuffing, ghost voters, et cetera, ECZ should conduct itself above board, must dismiss those fears that only spoil the electoral atmosphere. Even their intention to produce a new voters’ register must be handled with utmost consideration for stakeholder concerns. ECZ must therefore consult on potentially divisive processes that have potential to dent its image. 2021 is a critical year in the country’s political calendar and ECZ can only be expected to make and not break the spirit of Zambians.