UPND president Hakainde Hichilema has charged that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is working with the Patriotic Front in trying to manipulate the 2021 general election, but warns that Zambians will not allow it.

And Hichilema says the Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019 is meant to divert Zambians’ attention from the need to address the country’s economic crisis.

Meanwhile, Hichilema has called on government and the police to stop concentrating on the Chilubi by-election and start protecting the people of Chingola District in the wake of a spate of suspected ritual killings in that area.

Speaking on a Joy FM Radio programme, Thursday, Hichilema said ECZ’s decision to deny independent observers to monitor the printing of ballot papers in Dubai was undemocratic.

He added that the ECZ’s pronouncement of opting to leave out independent observers to monitor the printing of ballot papers was an indication the ruling party was colluding with the ECZ to rig next year’s election.

“Citizens must stand up to this and they should never allow the ECZ to collude with one political party, in this case, the PF. The ECZ can only upgrade the register; remove the dead people. If they do what they are planning to do, we will confirm that ECZ is colluding with the PF to steal the elections and that will not be allowed. This is another form of mischief, another form of arrogance. You need to study what is going on in this country; when people are planning something nasty, you can see it, you can feel it; you even see the way they talk; they talk with authority over citizens,” Hichilema argued.

“If ECZ made a genuine mistake, we ask them to correct that mistake. It is the right of citizens through the political parties that participate that as it has been before to be represented to observe the ballot paper printing. The right thing to do is to have observers, no one should end it! If they want to go that way, they should organize elections for themselves! Why wait until there is chaos in 2021? We must put our position now! I am saying to all the right-thinking Zambians do not allow ECZ to do that.”

He insisted that ECZ’s desire record a new voters’ register was strange.

“The attempt to basically get rid of the existing voter register, among other things, the Electoral Commission, is strangely doing. I say strangely these days because they are doing a lot of things purportedly for the people of Zambia, but without consulting the people, that is strange. Certainly, it must be strange to every citizen that cares and understands the importance of elections in a democracy. Democracy is anchored on elections, free fair and credible elections. So, what the ECZ is attempting to do is clearly against the interest of the public; against the interests of the citizens of Zambia. It is unacceptable that ECZ announces that they will procure (print) ballot papers from Dubai without consulting the people of Zambia, to ask the people for their decision. It is critical issues like the printing of ballot papers that needs the people’s voice and somehow the ECZ is ignoring the desires of the people of Zambia,” Hichilema said.

“Printing ballot papers is a controversial issue if not managed properly; it can lead to electoral disputes if not managed properly; it can lead to all sorts of things in a country, which is supposed to be a democracy. Therefore, it is always that it should be a tradition to allow citizens to have a view where ballot papers are printed from: one on account of confidentiality, confidentiality is important, yes, but on account of credibility; the credibility of the printer. They are printers of ballot papers in different countries in Africa that have been contested where questions have been raised about the integrity of those printers and also leading to, maybe, an assumption of unfairness in the electoral process. We must also worry about the cost of how much should it worry the taxpayer to print ballot papers? It may never be the decision of ECZ to spend money, which belongs to 17 million citizens of Zambia they way they want. What is the interest of the ECZ in Dubai, which overrides the interests of the people of Zambia?”

He said ECZ had no capacity to print ballot papers in Dubai as it would be strain on Zambia’s Treasury.

“The country is bankrupt, it has been bankrupted by the PF. So, we need to save every penny. There is no way that ECZ can speak arrogantly to say, ‘whether you like it or not, we will print in Dubai.’ The question is that you are going to print in Dubai, for whose interest? My conclusion here is that it should not be allowed to continue. These are issues which border on flaws or leading to a flawed electoral process no one wants that to happen in 2021,” he said.

“We want a free and fair election in 2021. The second area is the doing away of the current voter registration completely; this is unacceptable, this is illegal, too. The ECZ has no capacity; there is no money in this country; citizens should not agree for ECZ to do away with the current voter register completely because ECZ has no capacity to cover the whole country to register new voters given the flaws that are happening on the voter registration starting at the National Registration issuance. We know that PF are issuing NRCs luxuriously in their so-called strongholds, although there is no longer strongholds anywhere anymore. We are aware of the manipulation of the PF, which now would suggest that if ECZ wants to do away with the current register, it would suggest that they are colluding with the PF! ECZ, we can accuse them and safely say so that they are colluding with the PF to defranchise many citizens who are in the areas perceived to be opposition support. The legal requirement is that there is supposed to be continuous voter registration, that is the law.”

And Hichilema said Bill 10 was meant to divert the people’s attention from the ailing economy.

“Bill 10 is consuming pretty much of our time. Time is limited; time is money. Stop this Bill 10! It is disturbing us in terms of the time that we need to apply to be productive. To be active doing certain things creating jobs for our youths. We are wasting time on Bill 10. I love what happened with the Diggers! forum, although people are complaining now; that was an open programme, it was publicized! We must actually thank Diggers! and their partners, including Prime Television, for hosting such an activity giving citizens freedom of speech, freedom of conscience to think. What came out of that programme was wonderful! It reflects the feelings of the country. I know the PF are behaving like ostriches; what do I mean? They are burying their heads in the sand, but the rest of the body is exposed and any carnivore can devour that part of the body,” said Hichilema, who also called on the police to stop concentrating on Chilubi and instead protect the people of Chingola District.