VETERAN politician Vernon Johnson Mwaanga says opposition parties must demand an even campaign field from the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) as the August 12 election approaches.

And Mwaanga has observed that while the masses are impoverished, “leaders are richly constipated in unexplained wealth”.

Commenting on President Edgar Lungu’s remarks that government would ensure a free, fair and transparent election this year in a statement, Mwaanga stated that there was need to observe the electoral process at every given point to avoid suspicions of rigging.

“I was interested to read President Edgar Lungu’s statement,to foreign diplomats, assuring them that his government would ensure that Zambia holds free, fair and democratic tripartite elections on the 12th August, 2021. Elections are not an event. They are a process. It starts with the issuance of National Registration Cards, voter registration, voter register verification, election campaigns, voting, counting of the votes at polling stations, polling station vote counts, polling station announcement of results, before they are forwarded to the constituency returning officer, who then forwards them to the national tallying centre, before they are announced by the chairman of the Electoral Commission or one of the commissioners. The electoral process must be observed at each and every point, to avoid suspicion of rigging or tampering with numbers,” Mwaanga stated.

“Opposition political parties must demand from ECZ, an even campaign field, which is fair and equal for all. Political parties taking part in the elections must sign a binding non violence agreement which will cover the period before, during and after the elections. Violence is an enemy of peace, progress, development and democracy. Law enforcement agencies must deal with those who break the law equally, regardless of their political masters. They must be made to understand that no one is above the law. A peaceful election atmosphere will encourage citizens to go out in their numbers on 12th August, to vote for political parties and candidates they can trust to improve their lives and make Zambia a better country for all Zambians.”

Mwanga said there was need to uphold the African Union and SADC protocols on elections to ensure that there were no conflicts after the elections.

“During the Mwanawasa presidency and in recognition of the need to increase public confidence in the ECZ, he appointed the Electoral Reforms Technical Committee (ERTC), under the chairmanship of prominent Lusaka lawyer Mrs Mwangala Zaloumis, which included prominent citizens such President Edgar Lungu and Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Patrick Matibini. Their mandate was to come up with reforms, intended to improve public confidence in the Electoral process as a whole. Their final report contained very important recommendations on changes they considered vital to the Electoral process of our country. A few of the recommendations have been implemented. Other African countries which bought the report from the government printer, have implemented most of the recommendations, with salutary effect,” Mwanga stated.

“The African Union and SADC have come up with various protocols and guidelines for member states, which include the following; freedom of association and speech of citizens, full participation of citizens in the political process, political tolerance, equal access by all political parties to the state media, equal rights of citizens to vote and be voted for, independence of the Judiciary, impartiality of Electoral Commissions, Voter education, acceptance of results by political parties and individuals of election results which pass the litmus test of free, fair, transparent, credible elections, which meet prescribed international standards. The AU and SADC protocols, stress the right of aggrieved parties or persons to use the court process without interference, to challenge election results in designated courts of law. Election results must always reflect the true will of the people. Unfair election practices and results have led to conflicts in many countries around the world, particularly in Africa. These should and can be avoided if the SADC and AU election guidelines are strictly followed, not just by mere words, but by doing what is right and fair for all Zambians.”

And Mwaanga stated that it was disappointing that the PF had already started campaigning by dishing out money and mealie meal to unsuspecting voters.

“Officially, there are not supposed to be election campaigns yet, but it is a matter of record and visual evidence that the ruling PF party has amassed tons and tons of cash, which is being dished out to unsuspecting members of the public, particularly voters. Even branded 25kg mealie meal bags are being distributed free of charge in many parts of Zambia. Many of our people are hungry and are accepting these ‘gifts’- including freedom fighters who sacrificed so much for our country to be free, have now been forgotten – just to survive for a few days. The economy is performing very badly, the Kwacha is on its knees versus other currencies, unemployment is rising particularly among young people, mounting national debt levels, government hospitals have no medicines and patients are being given prescriptions to buy medicines from private pharmacies, energy and petrol, diesel and kerosene prices have gone up. Mealie Meal prices and all food and other basic survival commodities , keep going up almost every other week. The masses are wallowing in poverty, while their leaders are richly constipated in unexplained wealth. I have not heard or seen any programmes to address these burning and urgent survival issues,” stated Mwaanga.

“International election observer missions were introduced to keep an eagle eye on electoral processes of African countries, to ensure that they meet international standards. Sadly, their reputation has been severely dented by what happened in Kenya and more recently in Malawi, where international observer Missions led by former presidents, former Ministers etc. They had hurriedly certified elections both in Kenya and Malawi, as ‘free and fair’. The independent courts of Kenya and Malawi, found that there had been massive irregularities in the electoral processes of the two countries and nullified the Presidential Elections , paving the way for fresh elections. This new embarrassing excess baggage for international observers, has raised the need for local monitors, to up their game, because they usually monitor far larger parts of countries, than international observers, who send only a handful of people.”