YALI president Andrew Ntewewe says it is almost impossible to rig elections in Zambia as this country has one of the best systems in Africa.

Commenting on CiSCA Chairperson Bishop John Mambo’s remarks that elections would be rigged before voting if ballot papers were printed locally, Ntewewe said the statement was unfortunate because CSOs were supposed to uphold the integrity of our institutions.

“It is almost impossible to rig an election in Zambia. Unless Bishop Mambo knows how elections are rigged because he has been at this process for a very long time so maybe he knows how they may have rigged in the past. As far as we are concerned as young people, the system is very credible, it’s one of the best on the African continent,” Ntewewe said.

“Bishop Mambo says ‘we should bring angels at government printers to print our ballot papers, that is the only way there can be transparency in the elections of 2021’. We find that statement very unfortunate because as Civil Society Organisations, our role is try and help our institutions of governance to be strong. We are supposed to be able to provide checks and balances but at the same time we are supposed to be the first ones to ensure that we are upholding the integrity of our own institutions. Now, if Civil Society is going to be seen to be discrediting an election process, that has not even started, that will be very unfortunate.”

He said YALI welcomed President Edgar Lungu’s directive to print ballot papers locally.

“As young people of this country, we wish for ballot papers to printed in this country for a number of reasons. Printing of ballot papers locally will ensure that the $3.something million which is normally used for printing [outside], does not go out of the country but goes within our economy so that Zambians can benefit. Also by virtue of us printing the ballot papers in country, what will happen is that employment opportunities for young people will be created. So our call to CSOs as well as opposition political parties is that we must learn to ensure that when we are providing checks and balances, we are ensuring that the best comes out from the Zambian people, we do the best for our people,” he said.

Ntewewe said Bishop Mambo should step down because he had done his part in the civil society.

“Bishop Mambo says we bring angels, why should we even bring angels? If we are going to print outside, are we going to get angels in those countries where they are printing from? The older generation, for instance Bishop Mambo has been at this process. He was the first president of FODEP in 1991, so he has nothing to tell us at this particular time. This is why we have been saying that those that have done their part are supposed to be able to step aside. Bishop Mambo has been at this process in terms of elections for the past 28 years. So time has come to step aside,” he said.

Ntewewe said YALI would compliment government’s efforts instead of only criticising.

“You can’t do civil society politics at this stage because you are going to use the same method that you used in 1990. This is 2018 and in 2018 what we look at is ‘we have to get the best out of government’. We are not just going to criticize government no, what we are going to do is to complement government’s efforts. If there is somewhere lacking, we have to move in and say ‘this is the problem here how can it be better?’ Instead of just singing on mountain tops. Modern day civil society is about finding solutions,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ntewewe expressed shock that CSOs which were supposed to be neutral in the affairs of the country were singing the same song with the opposition.

“It is important to note that the issue of printing of ballot papers has always been a thorny issue. It is not the first time that we are discussing this issue. Prior to the 2015 presidential by-elections, ECZ printed the ballot papers in South Africa. Zambians will recall that the UPND demonstrated, some of CSOs including Bishop Mambo demonstrated. They did not want the ballot papers to be printed in South African. In fact they are on record as having demanded that the ballot papers be printed in Lusaka at government printers,” he said.

“Come 2016 ECZ did the printing of ballot papers in Dubai, again there were serious protests that ‘why should ECZ print the ballot papers outside the country instead of printing locally’? It surprises us that CSOs which are supposed to be neutral in the affairs of the country are singing the same song with the opposition. Because this sentiment is coming at the time when Hakainde Hichilema, president of UPND protested at the mere suggestion that ballot papers be printed in the country.”

He wondered what CSOs and the opposition wanted by being antagonistic to every proposal by government.

And Ntewewe urged the opposition and other CSOs to look at mechanisms which would ensure that the electoral process was transparent.

“We wonder what it is that people really want because instead of fighting very hard that we must have integrity in the electoral process, we are working very hard every day to discredit the electoral process. We are on firm ground when we state that the opposition, together with us as CSOs have demanded that these ballot papers be printed in country, now that this proposal has come forward, instead of us being antagonistic it will be prudent to look at mechanisms in ensuring transparency in that process because this what we have been demanding [for ballot papers to be printed locally],” said Ntewewe.