The just-ended Chilubi Parliamentary by-elections were not free and fair because the ruling Patriotic Front did not allow a level playing field for opponents, says AVAP executive director Richwell Mulwani.
In an interview, Mulwani regretted that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) had no control over the Chilubi by- election campaigns simply because the ruling party allowed the police to use the Public Order Act to abuse the rights of opposition parties that were taking part in the elections.
“That election was not held in a conducive environment to provide enough space for all the candidates that stood in Chilubi. So, we are very worried, I think we did a lot of appeals during the campaigns as an organization. We were one of the organizations that visited those UPND members that were arrested in Chilubi and then brought to Luwingu. We have a lot of information and what we know is that, the PF in Chilubi did not campaign very well because there were a lot of issues to do with vote buying, issues of donations that were given and also to worsen the situation, the DMMU (Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit) was also there with their programme that they were giving our relief food to the people of Chilubi. So, it was quite a very difficult situation for the opposition; space was limited for them, so they could not even campaign as they expected because there was violence there,” Mulwani said.
He also condemned the police officers for using the Public Order Act (POA) to remove leaders of the opposition UPND and NDC from Chilubi when the two leaders were just about to beef up their campaigns.
“What we have seen is that the Electoral Code of Conduct was also not enforced. Things were just happening, so how do you expect political parties in the opposition to compete at a leveled playing field? It can’t work! The Public Order Act was used by the police to remove those leaders of the opposition. So, you can see the danger that is there; you have the Public Order Act this side and you had the Electoral Process (Act) this side; how can the two be harmonized to provide a leveled playing field? So, there is a serious gap because ECZ cannot enforce its own Act. Now, where are we going as a country if we can allow such kind of campaigns where there is no leveled playing field?” Mulwani asked.
And he warned that next year’s general election would not be held in a conducive environment if the concerns raised after the Chilubi by-election were not addressed.
“We are worried that if this is what is going to happen, even in 2021, then the elections won’t be held in a conducive environment, and this is going to create problems in our nation. If we are going to ignore all the laws that we have in the country, then there will be chaos! We have the Electoral Code of Conduct that must be respected by all political parties. In Chilubi, the law was ignored, but it is very clear in the Electoral Code of Conduct, there are so many things that are provided for that political parties need to subscribe to and these politicians always agree that they are going to do what is outlined in the Electoral Code of Conduct, but they don’t do that, they do the opposite. So, what happened in Chilubi shows that political parties cannot respect the law that governs elections. So, as AVAP, we are worried,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mulwani observed that the Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 would disadvantage majority Zambians if enacted into law.
“And now, coupled with the bad Constitution and all these things we are hearing, like Bill 10 that are being sneaked into Parliament, if they are enacted as laws, I don’t think that we are going to achieve what we need to achieve as a country because this is going to work against the rights of the people because other people are going to use these pieces of legislation to disadvantage the other members of society,” said Mulwani.