UPND president Hakainde Hichilema has written to the African Union and SADC over the “unfair” in which the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) conducted the voter registration exercise.

In a letter dated March 25, Hichilema said the ECZ validated electoral roll indicated that the number of registered voters in provinces which strongly favoured PF had increased.

“Dear African Union Chairperson HE President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo and SADC Chairperson HE President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi. We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the outcome of the recent voter registration process in Zambia ahead of the general elections scheduled for 12 August 2021. Based on the figures presented by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), it appears that concerns that the new electoral roll was not developed in a fair and impartial manner have been validated,” Hichilema said.

“This is most clearly seen in the fact that the number of voters registered in provinces that voted strongly in favour of the incumbent Patriotic Front party in 2016 have increased significantly. Meanwhile, the number of voters from provinces viewed as traditional opposition strongholds have seen substantial decreases. The registration process, which took place in November and December 2020, was highly contested.”

Hichilema stated that it was unfortunate that the current register contained only an additional 304,021 voters compared to the 2016 register.

“Both opposition parties and civil society groups raised concerns around the practicalities and the partiality of the process, including the following: The new voters roll replaces the pre-existing register, meaning those unable to participate in the recent process will be unable to vote in the 2021 elections. Despite this, just 37 days were allocated to registering the entire country. In light of the reduced number of voters in four of Zambia’s ten provinces, there are concerns that thousands of eligible citizens who were previously registered have been disenfranchised as a result. The new voters roll contains an additional 304,021 voters. Yet, since the 2016 elections almost two million Zambians have turned 18. The 4.5 percent increase in the number of voters on the roll is significantly lower than the increases recorded ahead of the 2016 elections, when the roll was increased by 29.7 percent and in 2011 when the roll was boosted by 31.1 percent. During the registration period there were frequent reports of long queues, with voters discouraged by the lengthy waits or turned away and told to come back another day,” Hichilema said.

“These were compounded by staffing and technology issues. Misinformation and poor communication meant that voters were often unaware of when the exercise would take place at local polling stations, with deployment schedules communicated once the process was already underway. At the time reports circulated that known ruling party members were being bussed to registry stations in the middle of the night. There were allegations that the process was skewed to favour regions supportive of the incumbent Patriotic Front. The exercise fell almost two million voters short of its target of nine million voters. The resulting register contains only an additional 304,021 compared to the 2016 register, which is composed of large increases in the number of voters in perceived ruling party strongholds, with significant decreases in areas that voted strongly for opposition candidates in 2016.”

Hichilema said the new voters roll threatened to undermine the credibility of the August 2021 elections and paved way for election disputes before the campaign period had even begun.

He called on the AU and SADC not to legitimise the election because the voters’ roll had been compromised.

“There were previously concerns around the mobile National Registration Card (NRC) exercise that proceeded the voter registration period, as citizens must have a valid NRC card to register as a voter. Oversight of the process was compromised in August 2020 when the Ministry of Home Affairs disbanded organisations which were monitoring the exercise. In its current state we believe the new voters roll threatens to undermine the credibility of the August 2021 elections and paves the way for election disputes before the campaign period has even begun,” said Hichilema.
” We also believe it violates the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) and the OAU Declaration on Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa. We therefore call upon Your Excellencies, to: Ensure the AU and SADC does not legitimize an election based on a compromised voters roll. (2) Advocate for an independent audit of the new register to ensure the upcoming elections are credible and support public confidence in the process. (3) Support an extension to the voter registration to ensure eligible Zambians are not disenfranchised come 12 August 2021.”