MONZE Central UPND member of parliament Jack Mwiimbu says it is clear that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is trying to learn bad habits from notorious electoral commissions in Africa such as Uganda that have failed to deliver free and fair elections.

On Tuesday, the ECZ said in an event that a travel restriction was imposed on international observers, they must consider using local staff to monitor this year’s general election.

In an interview, Mwiimbu, however, said observers played a major role in ensuring elections were free and fair and that there was transparency in the process.

“We are aware that ECZ has a responsibility under the Constitution of Zambia and under the enabling Act to ensure that the elections in Zambia are free and fair. The observers, and in particular the international observers, play a major role in ensuring that the elections are free and fair and that there is transparency in the process. I have no doubt in my mind that ECZ is colluding with government and the Patriotic Front to ensure that 2021 elections will be delivered to the Patriotic Front. Reading between the lines, it is clear that ECZ is trying to learn bad habits from notorious electoral commissions in Africa that have failed to render and deliver free and fair elections. What transpired in Uganda, in my view, is now being imitated in Zambia. We have noted with concern that apart from the statement that has been made by ECZ, the government has come up with a would-be legislation to muzzle social media in this country,” Mwiimbu said.

“Two bills will be represented to Parliament this (Tuesday) afternoon, which is almost replica of the legislation, which are obtaining in Uganda and which legislation were used to ensure that come election date, the Government of the Republic of Uganda had the power to switch off Internet throughout the country and hence enabling the government and the Electoral Commission in Uganda not to deliver free and fair elections. We would like to call upon the people of Zambia, the international community to take note of the maneuvering that is taking place, currently, by the government in collusion with the ECZ. The people of Zambia are yearning to have free and fair elections come August. Zambia has always been said to be a haven of peace we do not want the next elections to be marred with irregularities that will lead to disorder in a country like Zambia.”

Mwiimbu added that getting a bail-out from the international community would not be possible if government wanted to introduce draconian measures in the governance system.

“I want to state that the UPND and its members of parliament are keenly watching the intentions of the government pertaining to these maneuvers. If the legislation will not be in the interest of Zambians, the UPND MPs will not support this particular legislation. Democracy is one of the key ingredients that render the international community to give support to the country. Zambians may be aware that we are currently engaging the International Monetary Fund to bail out Zambia. And one of the issues the IMF will be looking at is the governance situation in the country,” said Mwiimbu.

“It is very clear that by introducing these draconian measures, the governance situation is being eroded and the chances of getting support from the international community will be to no avail. They must not hide behind the travel restrictions. What message are they sending to the people of Zambia? Because COVID-19 is not only in those countries where observers will be hailing from, COVID-19 is also in Zambia. I call upon the ECZ to reflect on what they are trying to do. They are supposed to be an independent institution that should not rely on the purported instructions from the government of the day. Government of the day are players in the electoral process. They should be not coerced to do things that are contrary to the aspiration of the people of Zambia.”

In a statement, Monday, ECZ corporate affairs manager Patricia Luhanga stated there could be travel restrictions for international observers ahead of the August 12 polls amid the ongoing Coronavirus.

“The accreditation of election observers is a process that aims to ensure transparency and accountability of the electoral process. Interested international observers follow the application procedure, which is channelled through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for onward recommendation for accreditation to the Commission. On the other hand, public health regulations and in this regard COVID-19 guidelines are a preserve of the Ministry of Health. Therefore, the Commission will be guided by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health, respectively, on how to proceed with accreditation of international observers,” stated Luhanga.

“The Commission is aware of the risk associated with international travel in the spread of COVID-19 and the concerns raised by stakeholders are valid and the relevant institutions working with the Commission would need to ensure that relevant measures are put in place should the need arise for accrediting international observers. Alternatively, international agencies that have presence in the country and are interested in observing the elections can utilise local staff in the event that travel restrictions are imposed.”