Dear Mr Patrick Nshindano;
RE: REGISTRATION OF VOTERS FOR THE 2021 GENERAL ELECTIONS
Reference is made to the subject above.
SADC Good Governance and Elections Monitoring (SGGEM) wishes to bring to your attention with great concern the method the electoral commission of Zambia (ECZ) has adopted to use to register voters in preparation for the general elections to be held next year.
As an independent election monitoring body, SGGEM has been observing what is unfolding with tremendous concern. SGGEM has observed that the population of Zambia has over a period of time grown to an estimated 17 million people and that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has targeted to have 9 million registered voters out of that number. Currently the number of registered voters is 6,698,372. There is no doubt that the register needs to be updated so as to remove names of dead people and also include new names of people who are now qualified to vote as per the constitution. Our expectations are that the ECZ only need to identify those that are deceased and remove them from the register, include those that now qualify to vote on the voters’ register and update polling stations for voters who have shifted to different locations away from they have been voting from. Information about those who died whose names need to be removed from the voters’ register is available from council offices across the country. Instead of doing that, the ECZ announced that they will delete the entire voters’ register and come up with a new voters’ register without consulting major stakeholders. The problem with deleting the entire voters’ register and coming up with a new one is that everyone who is already registered as a voter will need to show up and re-register again implying that the over 6 million people already on the register will need to present themselves to the ECZ before they can vote. Here is how demonstrate that this will disenfranchise many people and divert from the spirit of good governance:
The total number of registered voters in Zambia in 2006 was 3,941 229 voters against an estimated population of 12,382,000 people. This information can be obtained from the African Democracy Encyclopaedia Project (https://www.eisa.org/wep/zam2006resultsp.htm). In preparations for the 2011 general elections the ECZ initially conducted mobile registration for 90 days starting on 21 June 2010 but because of the slow issuance of National Registration Cards (NRCs) and the lack of publicity of the registration exercise, the ECZ extended registration for 72 days, from 19th September, 2010 to 30th November, 2010. The ECZ publicized the exercise through the use of flyers, posters, voter education campaigns, and the use of the media. The extension was deemed necessary, as most people did not have an NRC. The ECZ sought to register 2.5 million new applicants upon completion of the registration process. The Commission worked closely with the Department of National Registration (DNR) of the Ministry of Home Affairs to ensure that more people were issued with NRCs. Following the closing of the mobile registration, the Commission continued registering people at City Councils throughout the country up to February 2011. Stakeholders appealed to the ECZ to extend the mobile voter registration for a further 21 days. The final exercise commenced on 10th March 2011 and ended on 31st March 2011. With all those extension, the ECZ registered about 1,279,181 new voters against a targeted 2.5 million people. The total number of voters on the provisional voter register thus stood at 5,223,316. The provisional voters’ roll was then displayed for public inspection for two weeks from 30th May 2011 to 12th June 2011 and the final register after verifications contained 5,167,174 voters of whom 50.14% were women while 49.86% were men against an estimated total population of 14,023,193. This is contained in the report of the commonwealth observer group of 20th September, 2011 for Zambia General Elections as well as in the EISA observer mission report.
Similarly, in preparation for the 2016 general election, the ECZ held a registration drive from 14th September, 2015, to 29th February, 2016, to update the 2011 register of voters. Mobile teams conducted the voter-registration drive, travelling to polling centres across the country. The Carter Center did not observe the voter-registration process; however, CCMG, a local CSO, did observe and concluded that the registration process was adequate. The verification exercise took place from 15th May, 2016 to 25th May, 2016, and was extended from seven to 11 days after political parties criticized the ECZ for not providing voters with sufficient time to verify their details. This voter registration exercise which lasted a period of 5 month brought an additional of 1,531,198 voters unto the voters’ register and the final number of registered voters thus stood at 6,698,372 voters in 2016.
It is also important to note that both in 2011 and 2016, the voters’ register was only being updated to remove dead people, include new voters and update polling stations for those that had shifted from places where they previously were voting from. It is clear that in the two cases cited increasing the number of voters took a lot of time. The ECZ announced that it will conduct voter registration exercise for 34 days once the ongoing online pre-registration exercise is over. The question that now arises is, what has suddenly changed with the ECZ that it will manage to register nine million voters on an entirely new register within 34 days when past experiences have clearly shown that it has taken the commission longer periods to register under two million voters? SGGEM is of the view that from this is not attainable. Instead of having a clean and credible voters’ register, a lot of people will end up being disenfranchised should the ECZ go ahead to delete the voters’ register and create a new register. The ECZ may argue that the voter registration process will be faster owing to the online pre-registration process they have embarked on. There is a problem to this however. Firstly, online pre-registration of voters has no legal backing in the Constitution or otherwise at least as of the time the process was started. The next issue is that mobile and data network services providers have not covered the country very adequately. A lot of places especially rural areas remain not adequately covered by the 4G network to enable people upload the required documents on the online pre-registration exercise and so people have difficulties to successfully do the online pre-registration exercise. Another very important reason is that literacy levels in Zambia stand at 55.3%. It therefore means that 44.7% of the people are illiterate and will mainly be unable to follow up with the instruction to enable them do online pre-registration on their own. Based on these reasons, it is clear that online pre-registration is not only illegal but will also not speed up the voter registration process. We therefore call on ECZ to stick to the current voters’ register and instead only update it accordingly instead of deleting it. Besides stakeholders were never consulted before ECZ arrived at this decision. Ignoring the importance of stakeholders’ input in this exercise may be disastrous to democracy and recipe for anarchy in the country.
We wish to further remind you that deliberate disenfranchising of eligible voters does not only undermine democracy but also goes against the Constitution of Zambia and the following international agreements to which Zambia has committed to uphold:
- SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections [Revised, 2015]
SADC Principles for Conducting Democratic Elections
In the event a Member State decides to extend an invitation to SADC to observe its elections, this shall be based on the provisions of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
SADC Member States shall adhere to the following principles in the conduct of democratic elections:
• Full participation of the citizens in the political process;
• Regular intervals for elections as provided for by the respective National Constitutions;
• Equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media;
• Equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for;
- The African Union (AU) agenda 2063
Agenda 2063 – The blueprint that seeks to transform the Continent will create The Africa We Want – An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its Citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.
Let’s be reminded of Agenda 2063’s Seven Aspirations listed below.
• A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.
• An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance.
• An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.
• A peaceful and secure Africa
• An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics.
• An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.
• Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner.
The first ten years implementation plan expands Aspiration 3 as below:
Aspiration 3: An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of Law
• Democratic values and culture as enshrined in the African Governance Architecture would have become entrenched in all Africa by 2023.
• Free, fair and credible elections will be the norm and at least 7 out of 10 persons will perceive democratic processes and institutions as being accountable and relevant.
• Respect for the rule of law and due process, the rights of all citizens will be part of the socio-political culture and the institutions that nurture them will be found to be capable by at least 70% of the citizenry.
• At least 70% of the citizenry will perceive the judiciary to be independent and impartial and acknowledge the relevance of the legislature as a key component of the democratic process.
• The African Peer Review Mechanism would have been adhered to by all members of the Union and its impact would be reflected by the perceptions of the citizenry in the various continental governance metrics.
- United Nations (UN) General Assembly – Right to Vote
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognizes the integral role that transparent and open elections play in ensuring the fundamental right to participatory government. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 21 states:
• Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
• Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
• The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedures.
The role that periodic, free elections play in ensuring respect for political rights also is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, the Charter of the Organization of American States, the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and many other international human rights documents.
Election monitoring groups, ranging from local or party monitors to United Nations teams, assist governments and local groups to hold free and fair elections by observing the process from the beginning (voter education, candidate campaigns, planning for the ballot) to the end vote count. By declaring an election ‘free and fair’ monitors can legitimize the outcome of that election. Conversely, by not doing so, legitimacy is withheld. The question of whether or not to grant legitimacy to election results is complicated by political considerations, as the results of declaring elections ‘not free nor fair’ can be serious. Riots and even civil war can break out.
We URGE you to please take note of the following:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Article 21 – see section I of this document
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976)
Article 25 – see section II of this document
We call on the Electoral Commission of Zambia to URGENTLY adhere to these principles with immediate effect as Zambia’s future and that of her citizens depends on it.
In support of Zambia’s democratic principles,
The Board and partners of SADC Good Governance and Elections Monitoring (SGGEM)
CC: Electoral Commission of Zambia, Chief Electoral Officer
Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Home Affairs
United Nations, Resident Administrator (Zambia) Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio
UNDP Administrator (New York) Achim Steiner
Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Janet Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal PC QC
African Union, Secretary General Mr Moussa Faki
European Union Resident Director / Secretary General
Southern African Development Community,
Select Ambassadors and High Commissioners – Germany, United States of America, British, Canada, South Africa, Botswana, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark
Zambian Political Parties, Presidents
Amnesty International – Africa