PRISONS Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA) says not allowing prisoners to vote in the August elections is discrimination and stigma against them because they are citizens and can’t continue to be disfranchised 56 years after independence.
And PRISCCA says prisoners are concerned that if their polling stations will be exclusive to them, they may ve victimised for voting for certain candidates.
Speaking when he appeared before the Parliamentary committee on legal affairs, national guidance, gender matters and governance, Monday, PRISCCA executive director Godfrey Malembeka said those who are calling for the prison vote to be postponed should rethink and called for vengefulness towards prisoners to come to an end.
He was responding to a question from Chilanga PF member of parliament Maria Langa who wanted to find out what Malembeka thought about postponing the prison vote and also whether campaign materials such as t-shirts, chitenges and bicycles can be distributed in prisons.
“Postponement is just stigma and discrimination. I am planning to retire I don’t want to retire with tears because the only reason that could actually lead to that postponement was going to be failure of registering them, [but] they have already registered and it is easier to conduct elections in prisons because all these people are in one place. It was very easy for ECZ to go and blow the whistle, they paraded and registered them, very easy but more complicated outside. So those who are calling for postponement I pray for them and I request them to rethink because those inmates are Zambians, they are discharged every day and they come to join us, they don’t go to heaven. This vengefulness should end. The Constitutional Court and parliament have helped Zambia that we need to be inclusive. Malawi, Lesotho, Kenya, Tanzania, all these countries have been allowing prisoners to vote and yet we actually are leaders. We are so advanced in many areas but on this one we remain behind for 56 years,” he said.
He also said that prisoners have requested that paper trail campaign materials, such as political placards and stickers, should be put on one ECZ poster so that all the candidates are featured on it to avoid littering the facilities
Malembeka added that prisoners insisted that they don’t want to be victimised as is the case outside the facilities.
“Inmates were saying we don’t want to be divided, we are reading and we are observing the divisions outside, here this is another world, we are suffering, we don’t want to be divided. So politicians should stop talking about divisions because we might just see that same happening in our correctional facilities. So they don’t want to be divided and so they said because we don’t know who will be in power, if we vote alone, we might be later on discovered that, ‘these inmates at Temps Correctional centre in Solwezi voted for this one or these inmates at Lundazi only voted for that one’. They did not want to be victimises afterwards, all they want is to choose leaders of their choice and they have repeatedly said that. So therefore they said we want to put also members of the public so that we are tested just like any other polling station outside because we are not different from these other Zambians,” Malembeka said.
And when asked by Itezhi-tezhi UPND member of parliament Herbert Shabula on whether it was guaranteed on who will vote, Malembeka said prisons were highly controlled and a register is kept making it easy to know who enters and who leaves.
“If there is any place where you will be able to count and compare the numbers that are inside with the register and confirm that these are the people who are in this correctional centre, it’s actually prisons. There is a big register that is there, so because monitors will be allowed, this is what they said. Monitors and observers, the internationals will also be allowed, they will be able to check these things. But also the numbers are always announced by the commissioner general and I am sure before elections, those numbers will be demanded by you members of parliament, that this is the number that has remained,” he said.
He added that on the fairness aspect, prisoners submitted that if political leaders will not be allowed to campaign, it should be all leaders and not just the opposition.
“On the campaign fairness, it was the submissions from inmates themselves also and also submissions from others that if political leaders will not be allowed, it will be everyone. Both opposition, ruling party will not be allowed and that’s what we want to see as human rights activists ourselves but if they will allow a number of political party leaders like some inmates, they have submitted that if they are going to come here, you should reduce the number, maybe the party president with a few people, we don’t want everyone to come here, that will create problems. So if they will allow some political leaders and a number, it will have to be everyone. So that is what I can say for now, it’s difficult but we will continue debating. I don’t think it’s will be as perfect as we had stated, we are doing this after 56 years, if there will be some lacunas, we will use this to make it better, we will continue perfecting it. All we want to see is they are being given back their franchise because they have been disfranchised for many years,” said Malembeka.
And appearing earlier, Civil Society Constitution Agenda (CiSCA) chairperson Judith Mulenga noted that since the prisoners have already been registered, it is up to lawmakers to ensure that concerns are ironed out so that the results are accepted by all.
She was responding to Langa who wanted to find out how the prison vote could be postponed when the prisoners where already registered by the ECZ.
“If the prisoners are already on the voters register, then it’s incumbent upon you the lawmakers to ensure that the concerns that citizens are making on this bill are actually ironed out before it’s enacted as a law so that the results from the prisons would be accepted by all,” said Mulenga.