‘No room for rigging in Zambia elections’

ECZ Chairperson, Justice Irene Mabilima said under the new Act, the commission had been empowered to ascertain actions that would necessitate rigging or fraudulent activities. She was speaking in Lusaka this week after flagging off the Voter Verification exercise to run from June 5-18. Judge Mambilima said under the Act, the ECZ would ensure that people indulging in fraudulent activities intended to discredit the electoral process were checked and culprits prosecuted. “The Electoral Act has empowered us to prosecute all those that would be found engaging in corrupt practices. Our goal is to ensure that the elections are free and fair,” she said. Judge Mambilima’s sentiments come in the wake of concerns by some political interest groups that the government’s ‘rush’ to enact the 2006 Electoral Act was intended to favour the governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) at the expense of other players. Chief government spokesperson, Vernon Mwaanga, recently allayed fears that the government was trying to manipulate the electoral process to get an edge over other players ahead of the elections this year. Mwaanga said the enactment of the 2006 Electoral Act was intended to empower the ECZ and streamline the setbacks in the electoral Act of 1991. A Catholic clergyman, Father Paul Duffy, said the more than 36,000 transparent ballot boxes acquired recently by ECZ were a teaser and incapable of stopping potential malpractices. According to local media reports, Bishop Duffy, who is head of Mongu Diocese in western Zambia, said the action was intended to ‘blind-fold’ the electorate. “The coming of the transparent boxes has not touched the realities that could have helped the country’s elections to be fair,” he said. According to Duffy, although the transparent ballot boxes would make a slight difference, it was difficult to guarantee the fairness of the elections because the boxes would not make much difference.” He said despite the acquisition of transparent ballot boxes, the elections would require to be monitored closely to ensure fairness at all stages. He challenged civil servants to speak out on issues they felt were not in favour of the people being governed than remain silent. “Civil servants can’t say anything and these are part of the educated people we have. This in itself is a problem because the educated people are not speaking maybe it’s because we were told to respect elders when we were growing up and not to criticise them because somehow it seems to be a cultural problem,” said Duffy. The Foundation for Democratic Process (Fodep) has joined calls for President Mwanawasa to expedite the announcing of the election date, as mandated under the new Electoral Act to enable players prepare adequately. “Its about time people knew the truth about the election date. The date of elections can’t continue to remain a secret. “It should be known in good time to enable stakeholders get prepared in good time,” said Fodep executive director Elijah Rubvuta. Rubvuta urged the government to avoid holding the polls during the rainy season because it would disfranchise most potential voters. He said people needed to know the date now so that they could financially, physically and mentally prepare for it, knowing the difficulties encountered in 2001 when the elections were held at the height of the rain season in December. The dry season in Zambia starts in late April and ends in October.

June 2006
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