THE UPND has applied for leave in the Lusaka High Court to commence judicial review proceedings against the Electoral Commission of Zambia’s (ECZ) decision to commence online voter registration without authority of law, and further, to give a 30 day cut-off time for the said registration.
UPND deputy secretary general Gertrude Imenda has cited the ECZ and the Attorney General as first and second respondents in the matter, respectively.
Imenda is seeking a declaration that the Commission’s decision to launch and host an online voter registration platform albeit dubbed as a ‘test run’ on its website eczovr.org and commence the online voter registration on the said platform is capricious and without authority of law.
She also wants a declaration that the ECZ was oblivious to the effects of COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the dire need to have more citizens to register as voters in the wake of the August 12, 2021, general election and, therefore, acted unreasonably, irrationally or with a hidden ulterior motive at the behest of “an invisible hand” in announcing a ‘30 days’ cut-off time for the voter registration scheduled to commence on October 18, 2020.
Imenda further wants a declaration that the ECZ’s decision to discard the existing voter register was ultra vires section 7 and section 14 of the Electoral Process Act Number 35 of 2016 and an order of certiorari to remove into the High Court for purposes of quashing the online voter registration platform on the ECZ portal and the said impugned decision to commence the online voter registration exercise.
She also wants an order to quash the ECZ’s decision to give a 30 day cut-off time for the voter registration exercise scheduled for October 18, 2020, and an order compelling the ECZ to embark on a continuous voter registration exercise to a reasonable period before the said general elections in 2021, among others.
According to an affidavit verifying facts in support of ex-parte summons for leave to apply for judicial review and for leave to operate as a stay of the impugned decisions, Imenda stated that between July and August, this year, the ECZ launched and had hosted a portal for online voter registration and invited members of the public to register on the said portal on its website.
“The said portal allows for the registration of voters on the information superhighway or Internet without the necessity of lodging an application in the prescribed form to the registration officer or the assistant registration officer for the polling district in which the applicant ordinarily resides. The said portal does not further require the production to such a registration officer a National Registration Card issued to such applicant,” she stated.
Imenda added that a cross-section of the members of the public have since followed the protocols for registration.
She stated that on June 12, this year, the ECZ through its chief executive officer Patrick Nshindano, announced its decision to give a 30 day cut-off period for voter registration, which would commence on October 18.
Imenda stated that in the said media briefing, ECZ announced its decision to discard the existing voter register and embark on a new voter register targeting nine million voters countrywide within the said 30 days.
She stated that she instructed the party’s lawyer Marshal Muchende to seek clarification from the ECZ over the above issues, but the Commission had been mute and had not denied the veracity of the information.
“On August 24, 2020, Nshindano was quoted in The Mast Newspaper confirming ECZ’s decision to commence online voter registration on September 26, 2020,” Imenda stated.
She stated that the online voter registration has no backing of the law and that the decision by the ECZ to give the 30 day cut-off period for voter registration was unreasonable and irrational on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dire need to have more citizens register as voters ahead of the August 12, 2021 general election.
“The decision of the first reponsdent to discard the existing voter register to commence de novo a new voter registration exercise in the short time remaining before the said elections is also illegal,” Imenda stated.
She stated that the incumbent regime had in the recent past channelled huge resources in the issuance of National Registration Cards in the areas they secured more votes in the last elections of 2016 and that discarding the existing voter register would disenfranchise the disadvantaged regions or provinces that had not received support from the regime over the issuance of NRCs.
“I verily believe that this is a suitable matter for the Court to grant leave for judicial review of the said decisions. This is also a suitable matter for the said leave to operate as a stay of the impugned decisions aforesaid,” stated Imenda.
And in an application for leave to commence judicial review, Imenda submitted that the decision to launch and host the online voter registration was illegal as it was not anchored or authorised by any law.
She stated that the ECZ did not consider that the cut-off period of 30 days would either engender “panic registration” reaction in the minds of the citizens in order to meet the deadline that would result in congestion at the designated registration stations and a resultant surge in COVID-19 cases.
Imenda added that in the alternative, the public would react with apathy to the process of registration to protect themselves from getting infected with COVID-19, which would result in low turnout of eligible voters at the registration.