ZAMBIA Law Development Commission (ZLDC) chairperson Justice Roydah Kaoma has proposed that correctional centres should be designated as polling stations to allow inmates exercise their right to vote.

And Zambia Correction Services Commissioner General Dr Chisela Chileshe says anarchists will not be allowed to campaign in prisons because they don’t mean well.

Meanwhile, Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) representative Emma Mwiinga says the commission still has a number of challenges in terms of operationalising the Supreme Court judgement about the need for inmates to be allowed to votes.

Speaking during a Zoom meeting which was hosted by ZLDC, Wednesday, Justice Kaoma said there was need to enhance inmates’ access to information.

“In the desk research that we undertook on the operationalisation of the prisoners’ rights to vote, we took into consideration the relevant international instruments, our domestic legislation, institutional framework as well as best practices. As the commission, we have made recommendations which we hope will be taken into consideration regarding the legislative and administrative reform which includes an inter-alia review of the regulations under the electoral process act and prisons act by inserting provisions that will enhance inmates access to information, secondly to review the regulations under the electoral process act in order to establish correctional facilities as polling stations,” Justice Kaoma said.

And Dr Chileshe said no one would be allowed to cause confusion in correction facilities when the time for campaigns starts.

He said those that might want to cause confusion in correctional centres would not be given an opportunity to campaign there.

“If the stakeholders, the political parties, adhere to the security guidelines, there is no problem in them because after all, the inmates are visited by all people that are concerned about their welfare. We allow even political parties to visit them, to donate things and to talk to them on areas that concern their welfare. But we do not just allow confusion to come to the facilities. And that is why we emphasize that those that might want to bring confusion are the ones that may not have an opportunity to come because we have systems of knowing who is an anarchist and somebody who is able to propound their issues,” Dr Chileshe said.

Dr Chileshe said political players would not be allowed to mount podiums and campaign in prisons but that a level playing field would be created for them to sell their messages.

“So in terms of campaigns, we need a modality of campaigning [such as] is it through electronic media? Is it through materials or is it through whatever? But what is obvious is that you cannot go in a security facility like a correctional centre and put a podium and start campaigning and slogans and songs, it doesn’t work because even in camps, political campaigns are not allowed. But people vote based on the information they are given. So, that shouldn’t be a problem at all,” he said.

Dr Chileshe said inmates would not be allowed to wear any political party regalia because they already have a uniform.

“[On] political regalia in the correctional facilities, prisoners or inmates have their own uniform. And that uniform is what is allowed in their facilities. So, it’s not regalia that campaigns, it’s the information that you disseminate. What is important is for key players to showcase their manifestos and show why they should be voted [for], and the level playing field will be created,” Dr Chileshe said.

And Dr Chileshe asked stakeholders to ensure that inmates would be eligible to vote by facilitating registration for both NRCs and voters’ cards.

“It is very practical that the inmates can vote. And I should mention that we have categories of inmates in our facilities. We have those that will be eligible and those that will not be eligible because of not having the right documents. It’s up to the stakeholders to ensure together with us that only those that are eligible legally have the documents for them to use to cast their votes. And stakeholders need to agree on the modalities. How are we going to ensure that the level playing field is equal to everyone so that no one complains that this one has an advantage over the other?” asked Dr Chileshe.

Meanwhile, ECZ’s Mwiinga said the commission still had a number of activities which it needed to resolve for it to actualise the Supreme Court judgement on the prisoners’ rights to vote.

“Some of the key issues that the modalities will focus upon will include voter registration procedures for people who are in lawful custody. Those are some of the issues that the commission is looking to get from the technical committee. Also, what will be the voter registration guidelines? How will the commission and other stakeholders like civil society be able to do voter education in correctional facilities? Also campaign guidelines for political parties. What will be the most practical way of undertaking campaigns during the time of the campaign in the correctional facilities so that they can also canvas for votes? In terms of availability of infrastructure in correctional facilities for publicity of campaign materials, voter registration materials and also ICT materials,” said Mwiinga.

“But also one of the biggest question that is on the table that the technical committee ought to guide upon is the level in which, for example whether we should go for a phased approach in enabling people in lawful custody to vote, do they vote in presidential level or in constituency or in local government? Because the law as it is, you only vote in the constituency, for example, your MP and your councillor. So, the commission still has a couple of activities that it ought to undertake.”

And Prisons Cares and Counseling Association (PRISCA) executive director Godfrey Malemeka said the association wanted to see prisoners vote.

“Prisons have produced so many politicians and leaders. So, we thought this constituency is huge. By Zambian standard, when you talk about 20,000 people, you are talking about three or four rural constituencies. Our issue now is to make sure that this judgement is actualized and operationalised. We want to participate in sensitizing inmates so that they are aware that even other countries have been allowing prisoners to vote. What’s wrong with us? We are not interested in who these prisoners will vote for or which party. What we want is to see these prisoners exercising their rights to vote. So, politicians should stop debating whether these prisoners are going to vote or not because that is water under the bridge. They should start preparing what to tell these prisoners,” said Malembeka.

“We actually wanted all these correctional centres to be part of the constituency development committees and allow the police and officers from the Zambia Correctional Facilities to be sitting and benefiting from the Constituency Development Funds. We don’t want Dr Chileshe to be fixing a broken tap in a correctional facility when there are funds within that locality. Those funds should be extended to help some of those centres.”