THE board and partners of SADC Good Governance and Elections Monitoring (SGGEM) have written to Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) chief electoral officer Patrick Nshindano, demanding that the 2016 voters’ register must be updated instead of deleting it in preference for a new register.

SGGEM is an organisation of Mainly Zambians and South Africans centred on enhancing good governance, effective independent election monitoring, advocating social justice as well as voter education in the SADC region in pursuance of the ideals of Agenda 2063.

The letter which was signed by the board was copied to the Minister of Home Affairs, United Nations Resident Administrator Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, UNDP Administrator (New York) Achim Steiner, Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Janet Scotland, African Union Secretary General Mr Moussa Faki, European Union Resident Director / Secretary General and Amnesty International among other institutions. Other institutions copied were Ambassadors and High Commissioners from Germany, United States, Britain, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark among other missions.

The board stated that the Electoral Commission did not consult stakeholders in Zambia, saying failure to do so may be disastrous to democracy and a recipe for anarchy in the country.

“We call on ECZ to stick to the current voters’ register and instead only update it accordingly instead of deleting it. Besides, stakeholders were never consulted before ECZ arrived at this decision. Ignoring the importance of stakeholders’ input in this exercise may be disastrous to democracy and a recipe for anarchy in the country. We wish to further remind you that deliberate disenfranchising of eligible voters does not only undermine democracy but also goes against the Constitution of Zambia and the international agreements to which Zambia has committed to uphold,” read the letter.

“We call on the Electoral Commission of Zambia to urgently adhere to these principles with immediate effect as Zambia’s future and that of her citizens depends on it. In support of Zambia’s democratic principles. SSGEM wishes to bring to your attention with great concern the method the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has adopted to use to register voters in preparation for the general elections to be held next year. As an independent election monitoring body, SGGEM has been observing what is unfolding with tremendous concern,”

The board stated that ECZ only needed to identify those that were deceased so that they could be removed from the register.

“SGGEM has observed that the population of Zambia has over a period of time grown to an estimated 17 million people and that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has targeted to have 9 million registered voters out of that number. Currently the number of registered voters is 6,698,372. There is no doubt that the register needs to be updated so as to remove names of dead people and also include new names of people who are now qualified to vote as per the constitution. Our expectations are that the ECZ only need to identify those that are deceased and remove them from the register, include those that now qualify to vote on the voters’ register and update polling stations for voters who have shifted to different locations away from where they have been voting from. Information about those who died whose names need to be removed from the voters’ register is available from council offices across the country. Instead of doing that, the ECZ announced that they will delete the entire voters’ register and come up with a new voters’ register without consulting major stakeholders,” it stated.

“The problem with deleting the entire voters’ register and coming up with a new one is that everyone who is already registered as a voter will need to show up and re-register again implying that the over 6 million people already on the register will need to present themselves to the ECZ before they can vote. In preparations for the 2011 general elections the ECZ initially conducted mobile registration for 90 days starting on 21 June 2010 but because of the slow issuance of National Registration Cards (NRCs) and the lack of publicity of the registration exercise, the ECZ extended registration for 72 days, from 19th September, 2010 to 30th November, 2010,”

The board said that increasing the numbers of voters takes time and one month was not sufficient.

“Similarly, in preparation for the 2016 general election, the ECZ held a registration drive from 14th September, 2015, to 29th February, 2016, to update the 2011 register of voters. Mobile teams conducted the voter registration drive, travelling to polling centres across the country. The Carter Center did not observe the voter registration process; however, CCMG, a local CSO, did observe and concluded that the registration process was adequate,” read the letter.

“The verification exercise took place from 15th May, 2016 to 25th May, 2016, and was extended from seven to 11 days after political parties criticised the ECZ for not providing voters with sufficient time to verify their details. This voter registration exercise which lasted a period of 5 month brought an additional of 1,531,198 voters unto the voters’ register and the final number of registered voters thus stood at 6,698,372 voters in 2016.It is also important to note that both in 2011 and 2016, the voters’ register was only being updated to remove dead people, include new voters and update polling stations for those that had shifted from places where they previously were voting from. It is clear that in the two cases cited increasing the number of voters took a lot of time,”

It said the online pre-registration of voters had no legal backing.

“The ECZ announced that it will conduct voter registration exercise for 34 days once the ongoing online pre-registration exercise is over. The question that now arises is, what has suddenly changed with the ECZ that it will manage to register nine million voters on an entirely new register within 34 days when past experiences have clearly shown that it has taken the commission longer periods to register under two million voters? SGGEM is of the view that from this is not attainable. Instead of having a clean and credible voters’ register, a lot of people will end up being disenfranchised should the ECZ go ahead to delete the voters’ register and create a new register. The ECZ may argue that the voter registration process will be faster owing to the online pre-registration process they have embarked on. There is a problem to this however. Firstly, online pre-registration of voters has no legal backing in the Constitution or otherwise at least as of the time the process was started,” read the letter.

Meanwhile, the board said the online pre-registration would not speed up the voter registration process.

“The next issue is that mobile and data network services providers have not covered the country very adequately. A lot of places, especially rural areas, remain inadequately covered by the 4G network to enable people to upload the required documents on the online pre-registration exercise and so people have difficulties to successfully do the online pre-registration exercise. Another very important reason is that literacy levels in Zambia stand at 55.3%. It therefore means that 44.7% of the people are illiterate and will mainly be unable to follow up with the instruction to enable them do online pre-registration on their own. Based on these reasons, it is clear that online pre-registration is not only illegal but will also not speed up the voter registration process,” the letter read.