A team from the Electoral Commission of Zambia is scheduled to leave soon to Dubai to monitor the printing of the ballot papers to be used for the August 11 general election, according to Priscilla Isaac, director of elections at the commission.The team is expected to be in Dubai until the end of July to witness the beginning and conclusion of the printing of the ballot papers and the subsequent dispatch of the documents to Zambia.
Isaac said the electoral commission’s preparation to administer the presidential, parliamentary and local elections is on course. She made the comments after the electoral body distributed non-security items to districts across the country in readiness for the polls.
“Things are in hand so as we get towards the end of July, like a week before the elections that’s when we will distribute the security materials that would include the ballot papers to the respective districts for distribution to the polling stations. So that all the materials are in place in the polling stations in time for opening of polls on the 11th [August],” said Isaac.
Fair and equal coverage
She also said the electoral commission is working with the Zambia Broadcasting Cooperation (ZNBC) — the state broadcaster — to ensure political parties get fair and equal coverage as they intensify their campaigns to garner more votes before the elections. Opposition political parties including the United Party for National Development (UPND) have complained that incumbent President Edgar Lungu and his Patriotic Front party enjoy more coverage or airtime on the state broadcaster than them.
They called on the electoral commission to enforce the electoral law, which demands the state broadcaster must ensure equal, fair and balanced coverage of all participating parties before the elections. Isaac said the electoral body has signed a contract with a company to help monitor the coverage of political parties by the state broadcaster ahead of the polls.
“We’ve had a meeting with the public media head and we did note they are making an attempt to provide fair coverage. I was listening to the news on radio and I think four political parties were mentioned: the ruling, the leading opposition party UPND and other opposition parliamentary candidate. So, there were mentions of not only the ruling party, but also some of the opposition,” said Isaac.
“What the public media head complained about is that they were not being availed the campaign schedule of the opposition political parties. So he said it is difficult for them to know when they have an activity and then they also complained of instances of intimidation of their reporters by some opposition political parties. But, we are hoping that there can be an improvement in this, so that at least the media is availed that opportunity to cover [political events].”
“We are engaging with somebody to assist us with the monitoring of media coverage, and I think they should be on board next week under the elections project. And our public relations team and all of us at the commission try and keep tabs of the coverage,” she added.
Possible election violence
Meanwhile, Zambians have expressed concern about politically related violence during campaigns before the elections. They called on the electoral commission to enforce the electoral law by banning the parties who are involved in the violence from participating in the elections, citing supporters of the PF and the UPND as the worst offenders.
“We are monitoring the situation and we are actually in the process of finalizing the regulation that would provide the procedure that would lead to disqualification…I think they would be shared with the stakeholders before we finalize so that they would be aware, which direction we are going. It is not something that should be a last resort, because even if we have those powers the same stakeholders if we were to enforce it would be the ones to start saying that we are picking on them,” said Isaac.
“The main thing is for the political parties to start being tolerant of each other. It’s really sad to see the two: PF and UPND at loggerheads and if we suspend the campaign period it’s not just going to affect them, it’s going to affect everybody else. So the commission’s appeal to the two parties is that can they restrain their cadres, can they exhibit tolerance towards each other? Concentrate on campaigning on issues, it’s not about pulling down each other’s posters battling each other. It just casts a cloud over the whole campaign and it becomes very discouraging to the voters.”