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Organisations wishing to monitor elections should not be unnecessarily restricted, CCMG tells ECZ

THE Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) has called on the Electoral Commission of Zambia to immediately clarify and review restrictions of monitors in constituencies, polling stations, stringent accreditation conditions for CSOs and the deadline for accreditation of monitors, provided for in their accreditation guidelines.

Chairperson Fr Emmanuel Chikoya said recetly the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) released its accreditation procedures for political parties, civil society organisations (CSOs) and the media.

Fr Chikoya said these procedures and guidelines had raised concerns by most CSOs involved in monitoring of the electoral process.

He named the concerns as restrictions on the number of CSO monitors to be deployed.

“The recent publicised ECZ accreditation procedures are unclear regarding the number of monitors that each CSO is allowed to deploy per constituency. This restriction also affects the number of monitors to be accredited by the CSOs and media at the polling stations. This appears to be the case under Section 2 but not under Section 3 of the ECZ public notice,” he said.

“Political parties and their candidates have a legal right to be in every polling station and so any accreditation restrictions that stops them from doing so will undermine transparency and credibility of the elections. CCMG strongly believes that this restriction should not apply to political parties.”

Fr Chikoya said the ECZ needs to clarify urgently and publicly whether it was restricting the number of monitors each CSO might accredit by constituency to five and by polling district to only 1.

He said if that was the case, then it means that only 780 monitors will be allowed to monitor 12, 152 polling stations countrywide for each CSO.

“This is by far too few to insure electoral transparency. CCMG feels that any such restrictions applied at constituency level would seem unnecessary since monitoring is done at the polling station level. This measure if allowed will significantly reduce CSO presence in polling stations in comparison to the number of monitors that were deployed in 2016, where at least 3 CSOs deployed more than 1,000 monitors, with at least 2 CSOs deploying more than 4,000 monitors for the 10,818 polling streams,” he said.

“If it is true that only 5 monitors will be accredited by each CSO per constituency, it would mean that any one of the CSOs would only be able to deploy just over 6 per cent monitors out of the 12,152 polling stations, and even if the three organisations who in 2016 deployed more than 1,000 monitors each went to different polling stations, they will only cover just under 20 per cent of the 12,152 polling stations.”

Fr Chikoya said the ECZ provision that only one monitor per CSO and one party polling agent would be provided access to the polling station as a mitigating measure for COVID-19 does not help the monitoring efforts by the CSOs.

“The ECZ must appreciate the importance of each CSO or party having their own one representative in the polling station at all times to witness the voting and counting processes of the election in full, otherwise, they will not be able to properly assess the complete election process for their respective organisations,” he said.

“As such, the ECZ should not assume that a CSO representative from one organisation is adequate representation for all CSOs or that one or even a few political parties can represent all political parties. ECZ should abide by its public notice, which provides that each CSO and each party will be allowed one representative in each polling station.”

Fr Chikoya said the ECZ’s new accreditation requirements place undue burdens on CSOs intending to monitor the 2021 elections.

He said the ECZ accreditation requirements were announced on July 12, yet the accreditation was effective July 1, almost two weeks after the commencement of the process.

“To make matters worse, the deadline of 30th July given to the stakeholders to complete the accreditation process gives CSOs and political parties very little time to plan, and comply with these new requirements. The announcement of the accreditation deadline was much earlier for the 2016 General Elections and CCMG wonders why so much changes are being instituted now when time is of essence,” he said.

“Moving the deadline a few days closer to the election day itself should not result in any disruption to the process, but will instead allow for a bit more planning time for the CSOs. The requirement to provide a certified copy of each CSO monitor’s National Registration Card (NRC) places significant logistical and financial burdens on CSO, when in the past the ECZ had allowed CSOs to accredit monitors by providing a list of NRC numbers and has never required certification, which in most instances will require a fee.”

He said providing certified copies of monitors’ national identity document had not been a requirement in either of our neighbours, Zimbabwe or Malawi.

Fr Chikoya said it was also unclear as to whether the ECZ would require submission of these certified copies of the NRCs at both the district and national level, which would not be feasible for any one of the CSO monitoring the 2021 elections.

He said the requirement that all CSO monitors complete the accreditation process at the district level places an undue burden on CSOs, as most national CSOs do not have district offices across the country.

Fr Chikoya said this places a heavier logistical burden on national CSO, especially with the additional requirement and late announcement of the accreditation deadline.

He said in 2016, 2011, 2008 and at other times in the past, the ECZ allowed national CSOs to accredit their monitors at the provincial and even national level without any problems.

Fr Chikoya said the ECZ accreditation requirements compel CSOs to provide EC-12 forms for each CSO monitor.

He said the EC-12 form that was used in by-election required this form to be completed in triplicate when only one form was required in 2016.

Fr Chikoya said this places a heavy paperwork burden on CSOs and even the ECZ itself.

He said the requirement that CSOs present a certificate from the Registrar of Societies for accreditation was contradicted by ECZ’s own document entitled “Accreditation Procedures and Code of Conduct for Observer/Monitor”.

“This document in B.10. provides that all organisations eligible to be accredited are ‘an institution and organization registered under the Non-Governmental Organisations Act (2009) or any relevant laws in or outside Zambia’. Given that CSOs are legally registered in Zambia under multiple legislative mechanisms, CCMG believes that this provision is discriminatory. This is because it only allows organisations registered under the Registrar of Societies to provide a registration certificate to support the accreditation of its monitors,” he said.

He said the other ECZ accreditation requirement that was problematic was one that compel CSOs to present evidence of work experience in the governance sector for the past three years.

Fr Chikoya said there was no explanation as to why such a provision was necessity in electoral observation.

He said elections were a concern of all citizens, CSOs and other stakeholders, not a single sector.

Fr Chikoya said to ensure credibility of the 2021 elections, organisations who wish to monitor the elections should not be unnecessarily restricted.

On assigning specific polling stations to CSOs, Fr Chikoya said CCMG believes that each organisation should be free to deploy monitors in the poling districts of their choice.

He said there was no need for ECZ to compel CSOs to divulge the polling station assignments for their monitors.

Fr Chikoya said CSOs’ monitors were relatively fewer than the party polling agents, and so accrediting CSOs to specific polling stations creates a transparency question because, in principle, it could allow any electoral commission to create a different type of electoral process in polling stations where there are CSO monitors compared to the ones where there are no CSO monitors.

“In addition, such a measure in principle could also allow a situation where any electoral commission, police or government to target actions, such as unjustified removal of monitors and indeed a CSO, since they are relatively few,” he said.

He said in the ECZ’s “Accreditation Procedures and Code of Conduct for Observer/Monitor” also released on July 12, it cited the Principles for Election Management, Monitoring and Observation in the SADC Region (Pemmo) 2003.

Fr Chikoya said in the cited (PEMMO) document, one of the key principles states that “The EMB must ensure that the accreditation process for observers and monitors was speedy, efficient and non-discriminatory.”

“With the new burdensome requirements for accreditation, it is our considered view that the ECZ’s accreditation procedures do not meet this principle, especially when these procedures were released so late in the process and with limited prior informed consultation with stakeholders. CCMG believes that any decision by the commission on the management of the elections must reflect the spirit and principles of the Constitution of Zambia and international standards of electoral process management,” he said.

Fr Chikoya called upon the ECZ to immediately clarify the issues raised and also do away with the new accreditation requirements for CSOs, which have the potential to significantly limit CSO presence in polling stations.

“At the same time CCMG calls on the ECZ to keep the accreditation period open till 10th of August,” said Fr Chikoya.

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