Zambia's Electoral Commission Thursday postponed verification of votes from last week's presidential by-election after partisans of the ruling party and the main opposition party traded punches. Some electoral officers were reportedly caught in the middle of the fight between supporters of the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) and main opposition Patriotic Front. Tensions are said to be running high in Zambia, where the opposition Patriotic Front of Michael Sata is refusing to recognize the outcome of last Thursday's presidential by-election. Rupiah Banda of the ruling MMD won the vote narrowly, with main opposition leader Michael Sata coming a close second. Sata accused Zambia's electoral commission of rigging the election in Banda's favor and has begun legal action to obtain a recount.
Reuben Lifuka is the head of Transparency International in Zambia. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from the capital, Lusaka that although the election was peaceful, it did not meet international standards.
"The verification exercise at Lusaka Central Constituency center did attract a lot of controversy between the Patriotic Front cadres as well as the Movement for Multiparty Democracy cadres. As a result of the confusion, the district electoral officer in consultation with the Electoral Commission of Zambia elected to postpone the versification to sometime next week. However, in other districts within Zambia, they've gone ahead with the verification and without any incidence and it is hoped that they would complete the exercise by the weekend or early next week," Lifuka said.
He said Zambia's by-election was generally peaceful and transparent.
"We have looked at the international standards for free and fair elections and in our assessment starting from the pre-election process to the polling day and the election results management. We do see considerable improvement making the whole process transparent. For the first time we saw that polling agents were given an opportunity as well as monitors to sign on the official declaration results. And further, the Electoral Commission of Zambia made a ruling that results once declared would be pasted outside every polling station," he said.
Lifuka said the presidential by-election however failed to meet international standards for free and fair elections.
"We still have a few gray areas particularly in terms of the electoral code of conduct. In that we had very few sanctions against electoral malpractices, which was noted not only from the ruling party, but the opposition party as well. So, our conclusion is that the election was peaceful, they were transparent and we made a number of strides towards free and fair elections, but we are not just there in terms of meeting internationally accepted standards," Lifuka pointed out.
He said the attitude of the electoral commission to improve the electoral process is worth mentioning.
"We are quite pleased with the attitude of the Electoral Commissioner of Zambia, particularly the new chairperson Justice Florence Mumba who has been willing to listen to stakeholders such as ourselves and consider working solutions, which would make our electoral process even more positive and acceptable to various stakeholders. Our immediate impression is that they will take into consideration not just our views, but also the views of international monitors and observers as well as other local monitoring groups. We are hopeful going forward in the future that in 2011 elections in the managing much better manner than the 2008 elections," he said.
Zambia is constitutionally required to elect a new president after former Levy Mwanawasa died of a stroke in August. Banda was hastily sworn in after the election to serve out the remaining three terms in Mwanawasa's second term.