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Zambia Opposition: Having Ballots Printed in Dubai Could Undermine Vote

FILE - Polling station workers are seen guarding ballot boxes following presidential elections in Lusaka, Zambia, Jan. 21, 2015.
FILE - Polling station workers are seen guarding ballot boxes following presidential elections in Lusaka, Zambia, Jan. 21, 2015.

Opposition parties in Zambia are questioning the choice of a Dubai printing company to supply the ballots for the August 11 general election.

The electoral commission awarded the contract to the Al Ghurair Printing Company to prepare all ballots to be used, and the government says the printing is complete.

But opposition parties, including the United Party for National Development, say the printing of ballots by a company outside the continent is too expensive and could be used by the government to rig the elections. Until this year, ballots for the 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 presidential, legislative and local 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 bidding for the ballot job.

Mwiimbu said that the UPND strongly doubted the polls would be credible and that the electoral commission should rescind the decision to award the contract to Al Ghurair.

“I’m aware that most of the major political parties in Zambia and other major stakeholders have expressed their disquiet pertaining to the awarding of the tender to a Dubai-based company,” said Mwiimbu.

Edith Nawakwi, leader of another opposition party, the Forum for Democracy and Development, said the electoral commission’s decision could create tension and chaos.

Officials of the electoral commission said the presence of the representatives of the political parties and other stakeholders to monitor the printing of ballots in Dubai underscored the election body’s commitment to ensuring a transparent process and credible vote.

Packaging, transporting

The electoral body said it was in the process of packaging the ballots and finalizing plans to transport them to the capital, Lusaka, in readiness for the polls.

Silvia Bwalya, deputy spokesperson for the electoral commission, said, "We have completed the signing of everything in terms of the referendum ballots, local government, presidential and national assembly ballot papers — all these we have printed and we are at 100 percent. What we are remaining with is the packing, which is in progress. ... For local government, we only remain with one constituency in terms of packing, and the national assembly packing is well underway."

“The representatives of the political parties and other stakeholders are quite impressed with the work that has been done, and whenever they needed clarification, they were able to ask and the commission was able to clarify some of the issues that they raised. And so I can conclusively say that they are very happy with the whole process and how it has gone, and also the commission is very happy with the way we collaborated with the stakeholders that are here.”

Party representatives and the stakeholders will witness the packing of the ballot papers to the cargo plane that will be transporting the documents to Lusaka, but will not be allowed to accompany the plane.

Rather, another team comprising party representatives and stakeholders will meet the cargo plane in Lusaka and inspect the packaging before the ballots are distributed, according to the electoral commission.