Patel writes ECZ over ‘key issues’ ahead of 2021 polls

DIPAK Patel (l) has written the Electoral Commission of Zambia to resolve nine key issues before the 2021 presidential and general elections.

In a letter dated 3rd February 2020 to the ECZ chairman and commissioners, Patel warns that elections if not properly handled can cause serious, unimaginable conflicts which could potentially rob the country of the peace it has enjoyed since independence.

“It will therefore be prudent that those tasked to manage the elections do so in a fair and transparent manner,” he said. “…the entire legal framework that governs the process must be reviewed and discussed and agreed with all stakeholders well before the August 2021 elections so that ECZ builds stakeholder confidence. The Electoral Commission of Zambia, Act No: 25 of 2016, Section 19 (1) reads: The Commission may by statutory instrument make regulations for better carrying out the provisions of the Act.”

Patel said he had been involved as campaign manager during the 1991 and 2006 (MMD) together with Vernon Mwaanga as campaign chairman and as campaign manager in the 2015 and 2016 (UPND) presidential and general elections.

“From my experience, of all the four elections, the least hassle-free election process were the elections of 1991,” he said. “In 1991, once the High Court ordered the ZNBC to air the MMD adverts, no further major problems were faced with ZNBC. Neither did the MMD face any problems on holding elections rallies, sometimes on the same day in the same town with the incumbent President and were able to freely campaign countrywide and did not face the problems of “police permits” for rallies, as do political parties now. Instead of progressing our democratic culture and having free and fair elections, things have gone from bad to worse, with the biased behaviour of the Zambia Police, Zambia Air Force and inconsistencies and inability by the ECZ to enforce what is right and fair in the process of elections. The elections of 2015 and 2016 were fraught with problems that never got resolved by the ECZ. It is my hope that the ECZ will this time finally address the issues highlighted below well before the 11th August 2021 elections.”

Patel said ECZ must urgently address the Gen 20 forms, Electoral violence, Announcement of election results, the Computer Server Room, Printing of Ballot papers, ZNBC – Political Advertisements, Use of helicopters/aircraft by political parties and its approval process by ZAF, use of ZAF planes and aircraft that collect ballot boxes and results and Proposed New Voters Roll before the next general elections to ensure peaceful, fair, credible and transparent elections in 2021.

He said in the 2016 elections, the announcement of results poll form (then Gen 12) was mostly missing in Lusaka Province and parts of Copperbelt Province.

“It is this reason, among others which caused the presidential petition to be lodged with the Constitutional Court. There is certainly no doubt that because of that, there has been serious tension in the country, as the election results of 2016 have been questioned on its legitimacy,” Patel said. “Public perception and confidence in the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to manage free, fair and transparent elections has been severely tarnished and unfortunately remains so. If the ECZ regard this statement about integrity as a careless statement, ECZ can carry out a public opinion poll to determine public perception. It will be important that as we head towards the next presidential and general elections, the issue of Gen 20 is clearly resolved to avoid a repeat of what transpired in 2016.”

He said Zambia is a peaceful country and “we must all work toward maintaining this peaceful status”.

Patel proposed that the ECZ gives each of the political parties participating in the elections copies of Gen 20 forms (and other relevant forms) so that political parties can then distribute to their electoral party agents.

Patel said civil society organisations and NGOs accredited to monitor the elections must equally be given the Gen 20 forms so that they too can distribute to their monitors.
“This should be done a week or two before the Election Day. The Gen 20 forms must be clearly indicated with a serial number to identify the polling station, constituency and district it is supposed to be used for. Furthermore, presiding officers must not refuse to sign copies of the Gen 20 forms,” he said. “It is expected that every poling agent and monitor must have their Gen 20 form fully signed by everyone involved as per the guidelines.”

Patel noted that in the 2015 and 2016 presidential and general elections, electoral violence was rampant whereby citizens were killed for merely wearing political party regalia belonging to the opposition political party and yet both the police and ECZ did nothing about it.

“This is very unfortunate as life is precious that it must not be lost because of an election. No Zambian should ever die because of political violence. In most cases, well-known cadres belonging to a well-known political party have perpetrated this violence,” he said. “It will be important for ECZ to disqualify candidates whose known cadres engage in political violence. We are all alive to the fact that some political parties may dress up their cadres in political party regalia of their opponent and ask them to cause mayhem so that their opponent is disqualified, hence the reason we want ECZ to be very sincere and deal with this issue in a fair manner. Additionally, ECZ should call on the Zambia Police to ensure that law and order prevails during elections. Anyone found involved in violence must be charged immediately and their voters card withdrawn, this will give decency to the political environment.”

Patel noted that there has been a trend whereby election results from very far places, mainly in rural areas, have been announced earlier than results in urban areas.

“It is understood that in rural constituencies which are very vast, election results may delay to come out because of long distances from polling stations and the totaling centre. It is however not understandable why results from urban areas such as Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces could take a full day or more to come out,” he said. “This issue will need to be addressed to avoid unnecessary suspicions and conflict after the 2021 Presidential and general elections.”

On the Computer Server Room, Patel said it would be important that ECZ gets to be more transparent and allow political party representatives to first of all know all the programmes running on each of the computers in the server room to avoid suspicions that some virtual software is being used to alter the results and also to desist from hiding any information from political party representatives. “Secondly, the ECZ must make available the results via an image of the form from where the results are being recorded from, the ECZ user interface must allow the use to access an image of the form received via the ECZ system,” he urged. “If there is a dispute, immediately the announcement of that result must be stopped until all issues have been resolved. It will also be important for ECZ to inform the public about the officials who will be given access to the server room well in advance to avoid a situation such as what transpired last time when Mr Samuel Chavula, a person who was not authorised to be in the server room, found himself there wearing an ECZ ID masquerading to be an ECZ official and being helped by an ECZ official to collect results and take them outside before they became official.”

Patel noted that the ECZ had announced that it intends to print ballot papers in Dubai and that it does not intend to sponsor political party representatives to observe the printing process.

“This is unnecessary arrogance. This is not the best way to handle matters that affect the next presidential and general elections given the tension that was caused by the previous election. ECZ should be more reconciliatory and find an amicable solution to this unnecessary impasse,” he said.

Patel said unlike the 1991 general elections where the High Court ordered ZNBC to allow MMD television advertisements to be aired, the 2015 and 2016 elections saw the political bias by ZNBC towards the ruling party (PF).

“ZNBC took on a role of the judge and jury in deciding which political advertisements could be aired. Despite relentless complaints to ZNBC and the Electoral Commission of Zambia to intervene, the appeals fell on deaf ears and were ignored. I suggest that ECZ makes regulations that govern the approval process and airing of political advertisements by ZNBC,” he said. “Among the things we should expect to see is to specify time at which all political advertisements must run, for what duration in terms of length of advert and political programmes such as documentaries. We all witnessed situations previously, where ZNBC is compelled by court to air an advert but they end up airing it at a very late hour when the viewership is low. This is a disadvantage. It would be in everyone’s interest if ECZ by statutory instrument has the authority to “approve” all political advertisements and also provide the criteria and guidelines of political advertisements. There also has to be an equal playing field during an election campaign period, and not allow unlimited coverage live or otherwise of the incumbent President and or Vice-President to be covered by ZNBC by virtue of their office.”

He said ECZ could learn and implement how an incumbent President’s coverage and political advertisements were dealt with in South Africa, Nigeria, India, and Kenya, among other Commonwealth countries.

And Patel said the approval process by ZAF for use of helicopters/aircraft by political parties was highly subjective and political.

“During the 2015 and 2016, often, with great difficulty, the ZAF Commander had to be contacted for approvals. I am certain that the ZAF Commander at that time can attest to this fact. It is extremely difficult for any opposition party to plan its campaign programme when there is uncertainty whether the approval will be granted, not granted or delayed,” he said. “The ruling party is given priority if it is the incumbent president or vice presidents that are flying. This needs to be subjected to accepted international practice during elections which we believe is more the domain of the civil aviation authority and not the air force. Perhaps, again, the ECZ can take lessons from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India and other Commonwealth nations where opposition parties DO NOT face this inexcusable predicament.”

On the use of ZAF planes and aircraft that collect ballot boxes and results, he noted the claim by ECZ and ZAF that ZAF and its own personnel can only undertake the exercise, without any monitoring by ECZ officials or political party representatives.

“This is another source a concern and unnecessary suspicions. The use of unsupervised and independently monitored ZAF helicopters and aircrafts is and has always been a source of concern and suspicion, and ECZ needs to address this and offer a solution that is acceptable to all parties,” he said. “Perhaps the monitoring of the process when using ZAF by the Christian Churches Monitoring Group could be a solution, as it would be impossible to have every political party represented on a ZAF helicopter/aircraft.”

On proposed new voters roll, Patel said to discard an electoral roll that has been built over several successive elections and hope to rebuild it in less than 24 months raised suspicion on the actual intention behind it.

“Why would the ECZ embark on a significantly detailed and laborious process in such a hurried and urgent manner this close to an election? On one hand ECZ claims it will not have adequate funds to sponsor observation of printing ballot papers and then are willing to conduct an extraordinarily expensive exercise? This is a time of extreme economic crisis and fiscal stress,” said Patel. “Government is under enormous fiscal pressure not only in 2020 but beyond the foreseeable future. Government is already constrained to fund the issuance of National Registration Cards, let alone other constitutional expenditure. Why can’t ECZ be pragmatic and consider only updating the voters roll? This process would require a lot of dedicated time, significant resources, specific commitment and the involvement of all stakeholders to transparently and successfully achieve. The explanations and reasoning by the ECZ are not convincing at all…I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the above concerned matters.”

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