The Electoral Commission of Zambia says printed ballots to be used in the August 11 elections will arrive in Lusaka on Thursday.
ECZ officials said political party representatives would be at the airport in the capital to receive and inspect the ballots before they are transported to polling stations across the country.
The ECZ awarded a contract to the Dubai-based al-Ghurair Printing Company to prepare all ballots to be used for the presidential, legislative and local elections and a referendum. Opposition parties, including the United Party for National Development, said the printing of ballots by a company outside the continent was too expensive and could be used by the government to rig the elections. Until this year, ballots for Zambian elections were printed in South Africa.
Jack Mwiimbu, the UPND’s head of legal affairs, said the decision could undermine the integrity of the elections. He also said the party had documentary proof of some Zambians celebrating after the chairman of the electoral commission, Justice Essau Chulu, officially declared that the Dubai company had won the ballot-printing contract.
Mwiimbu said the UPND strongly doubted that the upcoming polls would be credible. Edith Nawakwi, the leader of another opposition party, the Forum for Democracy and Development, said the ECZ decision on the ballot contract could create tension.
But ECZ officials said the presence of the representatives of the political parties and other stakeholders to monitor the printing in Dubai underscored the election body’s commitment to ensuring transparency and a credible vote.
Reuben Lifuka, former chairman of Transparency International in Zambia, said the ECZ's process had "strengthened the confidence that people have in the manner that the ballot papers have been printed. So, in general, there is a satisfaction that it’s been a transparent process. There are still concerns as to how the papers would be stowed and distributed thereafter. But in terms of its first phase, I think the Electoral Commission of Zambia has managed to bring a sense of transparency in the whole process.”
Lifuka, noting that some Zambians had expressed concern about the cost of printing the ballots in Dubai, said the awarding of the contract went through a bidding process, which is the usual public procurement practice as required in the constitution.
“Generally, the concerns for many Zambians is that we need to develop capacity locally to be able to print ballot papers," Lifuka said, "because in the last couple of elections we’ve opted to print ballot papers outside the country," rather than improve the capability of the Zambian government or local printers to do the work.
Lifuka said Zambians had witnessed the ECZ's efforts to improve the administration of elections.
“The concern has always been where the votes are counted and the delays that accompany the votes," he said. "There has also been concern about the transportation of ballot papers of votes that have been cast from far land areas which cannot be accessed by road but can be accessed by air. And in most cases the Electoral Commission of Zambia has hired the Zambia Air Force. The air force only picked [up] electoral officials and the ballot papers; they will not carry everyone on board, and that has always been a concern, a black spot.
"However, one is also bolstered in confidence about the audit trail that is there when the ballots arrive. People can count the ballot papers that have been received, and they can do so when they have monitors at the polling stations."