The deadline for Zambia’s voter registration is approaching Monday amid a controversy over a sharp hike in the filing fee for presidential candidates.
The south-central African nation's electoral commission announced in early February that it would increase the filing fee to $6,589, up from $1,000. Nominations will be accepted May 30 through June 3 for the general election, scheduled for August 11.
Wynter Kabimba, a candidate for the opposition Rainbow Party, condemned the fee as exorbitant.
"We in Rainbow Party are left wondering, what is the purpose?" local media quoted Kabimba as saying on a local radio program this week. Using an acronym for the commission, he asked, "Since when did ECZ become a money-making machine — you know, a profit-making organization? It was not established for that purpose."
Elections director Priscilla Isaac disagreed, saying the electoral commission received significant public support upon learning its rationale for the fees.
Each presidential candidate is entitled to a free copy of the voter list, which otherwise costs $16,000, according to Isaac.
She also said the commission provides "one representative for each presidential candidate to witness the printing of ballot papers." Last year’s ballots were printed in South Africa, "and we spent close to $11,000 in terms of airfares and upkeep,” she said, calling the $6,589 nominating fee a comparatively "small contribution … to this expense."
The commission plans to extend voter registration hours Monday, anticipating a last-minute surge, Isaac said.
She said the commission had set a target of 1.7 million new voters, with more than more than 1.5 million registered as of mid-December. A new tally is to be available after Monday.
The nation of more than 15 million people had registered at least 5 million voters before the 2011 general elections, according to the Zambian Analyst blog.
Isaac said the total number of eligible voters won't be known until the register is certified July 31. First, the commission must prepare a provisional roll that she said would be presented to the public in May so voters could make any needed corrections.
The U.S. government is providing $3.8 million in support of the August elections, its ambassador to Zambia, Eric Schultz, said in a radio interview earlier this week, according to the Lusaka Times. The U.S. supports transparency in elections.