The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) says it has not been approached by any political party to observe the printing of ballot papers in Dubai ahead of the 2021 general election.

And Commission’s Chief Electoral Officer Patrick Nshindano says there is need for Zambia to do away with political violence so that the credibility of elections is not compromised.

Meanwhile, Nshindano has announced that the ECZ’s District Conflict Resolution Committee is currently sitting to probe reports of sporadic electoral violence in Chilubi constituency that have been lodged by the UPND, NDC and the PF.

Speaking during a press briefing in Lusaka, Friday, Nshindano insisted that it was unsustainable to sponsor political parties to Dubai because at the moment, even children were aware that the economy was not performing well.

“Is there a party which has approached the Commission to observe elections? At this particular point in time, no. The only cry from political parties is that of ‘why the Commission has decided to stop the practice of sponsoring political parties.’ I think this is now general knowledge, I think everybody, including children, know that the economy is under stress and everybody is being asked to tighten their belts and every government institution has not been spared, including the Electoral Commission of Zambia and a lot resources in terms of what has been the inflow has also drastically reduced! I don’t have the percentage, but I can tell you one thing is that it has drastically reduced. And what has been streamlined is that we need to ensure that we only focus on key programmes; even those key programmes in terms of fulfillment is a challenge,” Nshindano told journalists at Election House.

“But also, colleagues, if I can ask you one question and throw it back to you: is it too much to ask a political party to sponsor one of their observers to join, to accompany the Electoral Commission of Zambia to go and observe? Is that too much to ask in such a situation? Should austerity measures only apply to the rest and not to political parties or politicians as it were? I think prudence has to be exercised at all levels regardless of where you are coming from. In as much as we represent political parties, we also need to be alive to the needs of the country and that resources are limited! And we are not saying political parties can’t come, no! That is an incorrect position. We encourage political parties, for that matter, let them come through. You must take note that Zambia, in as much as it’s a good practice, is the only country on the continent that sponsors political parties to observe printing, why is it that that other countries don’t do that? I think we also need to look at the sustainability of it. Is it sustainable now and in the future given the economic context that we have?”

And Nshindano insisted that it was unacceptable for any loss of life during election campaigns as it undermined the credibility of the poll.

“We do take note of the level of intolerance as demonstrated by frequent political violence every time we have polls and I think this is unacceptable! This is a very serious issue, colleagues, and we have seen this in terms of electoral malpractice, electoral violence and it’s something that, as a Commission, we have put up a very robust programme, one to enhance regulations because a number of these are as a result of the breach of the Electoral Code of Conduct and the enforcement regulations will be critical and let me mention this to political parties. They should not come and cry foul that ECZ is favouring one party or the other or misconducting itself. I think we had reached out to them and we are in full swing in terms of reviewing the enforcement regulations and these will apply in a very fair manner where evidence is provided that there is breach of conduct because we cannot have lives lost as we are undertaking our elections,” he added.

“It really undermines the credibility, but it also de-franchises a lot of stakeholders, especially women, children, and those who are differently-abled. And when you look at trends in terms of voter turnout, you will see that this has been going down, part of that can be attributed to issues of peace. I think we all have one country and we need to guard it jealously. There is a notion that when you are at the Commission, you basically change your stripes and you are blind to everything that is going on, I think that is not true. We have a lot of people that have high integrity at the Commission and they all want to do their work diligently and ensure that credible elections are delivered. But credible elections are not just about ECZ, it involves all stakeholders, starting with political parties; they instigate violence due to high levels of intolerance.”

Meanwhile, Nshindano said that the Commission had received violence reports from UPND, NDC and the PF in Chilubi , but that all parties were crying victim.

He, however, said that the ECZ’s District Conflict Resolution Committee has sat to probe reports of sporadic electoral violence perpetuated by the UPND, NDC and the PF in Chilubi constituency in the area.

“In terms of Chilubi, who is the victim? Like I said, we have received complaints from UPND, NDC and PF and I will be very categorical, all the parties have cried victim! Every political party has brought a case against the other political party and that is the nature of elections. And this is why we have emphasized at all points that there is need for political parties to use the structures that have been in place during polls and one of those key structures is the district conflict management committees. These are very important things because even when you look at the issues to do with sanctions from the Electoral Commission of Zambia, they actually have to start from there because once the Committee meets and they determine, clearly, after hearing the appeals or submissions of all the stakeholders then they are able to pass on the recommendation to the Commission, which the Commission acts on,” Nshindano said.

“We cannot act on one particular parties’ submission alone, it has to be triangulated and its important that that is made clear. And just to inform you, colleagues, I have just received word that the District Conflict Resolution Committee is currently sitting and we have all the political parties that have submitted in terms of complaints of electoral violence in that meeting and we hope that once they are done, we also avail to you some of the resolutions that will come out of that.”

Nshindano also announced that the Commission was set to commence voter registration this May, revealing that the new register was expected to have enhanced biometric features to improve its credibility.

“The Commission intends to undertake the registration of voters, which is likely to commence in May, 2020. The exercise will include mobile, district centre as well as online voter registration. The voter registration exercise will entail creation of a new register of voters. In this regard, every eligible voter will have to register under the new register for the 2021 general elections. Any by-election that occurs from the time the new registration process commences to a period before the 2021 general elections will be conducted under the current register of voters,” said Nshindano.

Nshindano also said prisoners would vote in 2021.