By Bright Chikele:
On 9th July 2016 the ECZ, which is constitutionally mandated to, among other things, oversee the electoral process in Zambia while maintaining independence and impartiality, issued a directive to the effect that campaigns in Lusaka and Namwala Districts of the Republic of Zambia are to be suspended for 10 days effective 9th July 2016, save for campaigns via print and electronic media. The ECZ issued this directive in purported exercise of the powers vested upon it by Section 28(2) of the Electoral Process Act No. 35 of 2016 (“the Act”). The United Party for National Development (“UPND”) wishes to place on record that by issuing the subject directive, the ECZ has not only exceeded the authority vested in it by law but it has also failed to ensure that it remains independent and impartial I the exercise of its mandate.
The provisions of Section 28(2) of the Act as they relate to the campaign period permit the commission to amend the timetable only if it is necessary for a free and fair election and where the polling day has been postponed. In terms of the campaign period Section 28(1)(a)(v) provides that the ECZ can only provide for the opening and closing dates and not for a suspension of the same. It follows that the ECZ can, in appropriate circumstances, only amend the opening and closing dates for the campaign period and nothing more. The ECZ has no power to suspend the campaign period. This is especially so for these elections whose date is set in the Constitution and cannot be shifted. Also when the definition of “campaign period” set out in section 2 of the Act is considered there is no room for the purported suspension as the law is clear that the period prescribed is three months and no less. By purporting to suspend the campaign period the ECZ has given itself nonexistent power to reduce the period to less than the prescribed three months, which is unlawful! What is more, the purported suspension contravenes the clear provisions of Article 29 of the Constitution which guarantees candidates in an election the right to campaign. The UPND therefore demands that the ECZ immediately withdraws its directive as it is unlawful.
Biasness and lack of independence on the part of ECZ
In issuing the directive, the ECZ has clearly shown that it is working under the directives of the executive arm of Government which is currently under the control of the Patriotic Front (“the PF”) which in turn is a contender in the forthcoming elections. If indeed the ECZ was acting independently and in the interest of a free and fair election it would have disclosed the source of information it relied upon when it issued the directive. However, as things stand, the directive comes on the heels of a false allegation by the Head of State to the effect that Southern Province has recorded high levels of violence.
The directive reflects this allegation when it refers to Mazabuka and other districts in Southern Province as being warned while completely ignoring the recent violent activities that took place in Shiwangandu. In the same vein, while it is clear that UPND sympathizers have been the victims in most of the cases of violence and electoral malpractice observed in Lusaka such as the attack on the UPND during its Matero youth rally, the attack on Lady Dianna School in Kanyama and the killing and maiming of persons wearing UPND regalia, the ECZ has failed to penalize the PF as perpetuators of those incidences, opting instead to issue a blanket suspension. In the face of recorded incidences of violence by the PF on an unprecedented level the proper course of action for the ECZ to take was to have conducted an independent and transparent survey and thereafter apply the Electoral Process (Disqualification) Regulations as appropriate. By failing to take the proper course of action the ECZ has disadvantaged all opposition political parties that do not enjoy the same media coverage as the ruling party and has therefore acted in an unfair and a biased manner.
UPND implores the ECZ to act in the best interest of Zambia and her young democracy and to desist from taking unlawful, biased and unfair actions such as the issuance of the directive in issue
UPND Secretary General