THE European Union Election Observer Mission says President Edgar Lungu abused his incumbency to gain unfair advantage over his political rivals ahead of the August 12 general elections.
And the EU has questioned the failure by the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) and the Electoral Commission of Zambia to explain the shut down of social media.
In a preliminary statement, EU chief observer Maria Aren described the 12th August election as a technically well managed electoral process marred by unequal campaign conditions, restrictions on freedoms of Assembly and movement and abuse of incumbency.
She said the restriction of social media unduly interfered with the right to access to information and undermined the overall transparency of elections.
“Neither the ICT regulator nor the ECZ explained the nature, duration, or reasoning why, from midday 12th August onwards, access to WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram was blocked or hindered. Restrictions on access to social media and instant messaging platforms unduly curbed freedom of expression, interfered with the right to access to information and undermined the overall transparency of elections,” Arena said.
Arena said the 2021 general elections took place against a background of deepening political polarisation.
“A technically well managed electoral process marred by unequal campaign conditions, restrictions on freedoms of Assembly and movement and abuse of incumbency. The 2021 general elections took place against a background of deepening political polarisation. Throughout the campaign, there were widespread concerns of potential escalation of violence. Despite COVID challenges, the electoral process was technically well managed. Arbitrary and selective application of the law hampered opposition candidates from competing under equal conditions and restricted freedoms of assembly and movement,” Arena said.
“Arbitrary application of COVID-19 regulations and the public order act provisions hindered opposition candidates from competing under equal conditions and amplified widespread perceptions of unlevelled playing field. The selective application of those rules restricted freedoms of assembly and movement and, at times, involved excessive use of force by the police to curb opposition campaigning. The ruling party was largely exempted from campaign restrictions.”
Arena said the ruling PF monopolised prime time on state and private media.
“The ruling party extensively used state resources, and its campaign was largely exempted from restrictions. The traditional and online media campaign was highly monetised, with the ruling party monopolising the prime time on state and private media. The Presidential campaign was highly polarised. Violence, particularly clashes between the UPND and PF cadres, was a matter of concern. The ECZ responded to political violence by temporarily suspending campaigns. However, the lack of transparency in the decision-making process over the suspensions triggered public controversy. In an unprecedented move the President, on 1st August, announced the deployment of the Zambia Defence Force to beef up police capacity,” said Arena.
“I urge political parties, candidates and citizens to await the announcement of results calmly and peacefully. In addition, it will be important that any possible challenges to the results are handled in line with due process and as established by law.”