The August 2016 general elections were highly competitive, and prepared in a largely professional manner. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) generally demonstrated competence in conducting key electoral operations, but the organisation of four elections and a constitutional referendum concurrently was reflected in some weaknesses in the implementation of logistics, counting, tabulation and voter education. Problems with the results management system contributed to the slow tabulation and announcement of results, and opportunities were missed to enhance the transparency of, and trust in, several stages of the process.
Both major political parties made statements that inflamed tensions during the campaign, and there were several serious incidents of violence. The suspension of the electoral campaign by the ECZ in the districts of Lusaka and Namwala was a disproportionate response, establishing an unfortunate precedent.
The electoral campaign was marred by systematic bias in state media, which failed to provide fair and equitable coverage of the campaigns of all parties, and by restrictions on private media, notably newspaper The Post. The Constitutional Court failed to provide clear, timely and authoritative directions to parties regarding the timeline for the opposition’s challenge of the presidential election results, which undermined public confidence in the election complaints process. The Chief Observer of the EU Election Observation Mission to Zambia, Ms. Cécile Kyenge, Member of the European Parliament, returned to Lusaka this week to present the Final Report to the ECZ, the Government of the Republic of Zambia, political parties, domestic observers and civil society. “Zambia’s recent elections demonstrate that there is always room for improvement. While the elections were competitive, the process highlighted several areas where steps can be taken to enhance the inclusivity and credibility in future,” Ms. Kyenge said.
The recommendations included in the EU EOM’s Final Report include: a detailed review of the electoral legal framework and redrafting of unclear, ambiguous and conflicting provisions; the removal of overly restrictive limitations of freedom of assembly in the Public Order Act; publication of individual polling station results for all elections in a timely manner, and an end of the de facto subdivision of polling stations into polling streams; an assessment of the results management system for accuracy, timeliness and transparency; clarification of the rules and procedures for complaints, for local, parliamentary and presidential elections; transformation of ZNBC into a public service broadcaster with full editorial independence from government, and enhanced oversight of the ECZ of the public media.
“Our final report brings together the findings of all our observations in the three-month period the mission was in Zambia, as well as comprehensive recommendations for future elections. They are addressed to the relevant institutions – the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), the Government of Zambia, the police, political parties, civil society, and other key stakeholders. Let me stress that many of these recommendations will require cooperation between state institutions, and should be inclusive of all elements of society, including civil society. The European Union remains committed to work with Zambian partners in its journey of democratic development,” Ms. Kyenge added.
The report makes key recommendations for consideration by authorities, the election management bodies and other key election stakeholders. They include the following:
• Conduct a detailed review of the electoral legal framework and redraft unclear, ambiguous and conflicting provisions in order to ensure consistency and increase legal certainty.
• Remove overly restrictive limitations of freedom of assembly in the Public Order Act. Clearly define the grounds for the police to impose conditions and to restrict assemblies, and narrow the geographic scope of any such restrictions. Shorten the notice period required for public campaign events, and respect the principle of notification as opposed to permission in accordance with the May 2016 judgment of the Supreme Court.
• The ECZ should rely less on local government officials and local administrative structures and exert greater direct management over all aspects of the electoral process. The development of a permanent independent structure of the ECZ at regional level should be implemented, as well as a temporary independent structure at constituency levels during the immediate period of elections.
• The de facto subdivision of a polling station into polling streams should no longer be used. All locations where voters cast ballots should be called polling stations, be duly gazetted and identified by a unique code, with results individually posted and published.
• A review of constituency boundaries should be undertaken to ensure that constituencies better reflect population distribution.
• Consideration should be given to extracting the voter register from a future national population register, included the planned biometric population registry.
• The ECZ should ensure that political parties and civil society organisations have access to the final voter register well in advance of the elections, as has historically been the case.
• The ECZ should publish individual polling station results for all elections in a timely manner. Scanned polling station results forms could also be published, to further build confidence.
• The results management system (RMS) should be assessed for accuracy, timeliness and transparency. Consideration should be given to introducing double-blind data entry, to better ensure data integrity.
• ZNBC should be transformed into a public service broadcaster enjoying full editorial independence from government. Protection of tenure of the board of directors and senior management should be guaranteed, who should be appointed in a transparent manner, with the involvement of media professionals and civil society organizations. News and content management staff should also be appointed in a manner protected from political interference, and be subject to public interest rules.
• The ECZ should exercise enhanced oversight over the public media, and more actively address complaints related to campaign coverage.
Complaints and Appeals:
• The right to effective remedy should be enhanced by clarification of the rules and procedures for complaints, for local, parliamentary and presidential elections. The rules on which courts have jurisdiction should be unambiguous. The competencies
and procedures for conflict management committees (CMCs) should be defined in detail and ensure that they do not overlap with those of police and the courts.
The EU EOM was present in Zambia between 29 June and 12 September 2016, following invitations from the Government of the Republic of Zambia and the Electoral Commission of Zambia. In total, the mission deployed 124 observers across the country from all 28 EU Member States, as well as Norway and Canada, making it the largest international observation mission for the elections. The mission assessed the extent to which the electoral process complied with Zambia’s national, regional and international commitments for elections.