THE Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has cancelled the Kabwata Parliamentary by-election following United Progressive Party candidate Francis Libanda’s withdrawal from the race.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Mulambo Haimbe says such lacunae justify constitutional review.

ECZ chief electoral officer Patrick Nshindano announced during a media briefing, Monday, that fresh nominations would take place on a date to be announced.

The commission has further canceled all campaign activities in Kabwata.

“The Electoral Commission of Zambia wishes to confirm receipt of a letter dated 7th January 2022, from the United Progressive Party (UPP) Kabwata Parliamentary by-election candidate Mr Libanda Francis indicating his withdrawal from the forthcoming by-election. Further, the commission today received another letter from Mr Libanda dated 10th January 2022, clarifying his decision whilst also invoking the provisions of article 52 of the Republican Constitution. The electoral process act under section 31 (2) provides as follows; ‘a nomination submitted under sub section 1 may be withdrawn at any time before the expiry of the period appointed for lodging nomination papers in respect of the constituency concerned. If the candidate delivers to the returning officer a written notice to that effect.’ This is what the electoral process act states under section 31 (2),” Nshindano said.

“On the other hand, article 52 (6) of the Republican Constitution provides that where a candidate dies, resigns, or becomes disqualified, in accordance with article 70,100 or 153, or a court disqualifies a candidate for corruption, malpractice after the close of nominations and before the election date, the Electoral Commission shall cancel the election and require the filing of fresh nominations by eligible candidates and elections shall be held within 30 days of filing of fresh nominations. Based on the initial correspondence of 7th January 2022, the by-election would have proceeded as planned as provided for by the electoral process act number 35 of 2016 section 31 (2) which empowers the commission to reject a withdrawal and proceed with the election.”

He said in a letter dated January 10, 2022, Libanda invoked the provision of article 52.

“I wish to advise that a withdrawal is clearly only permitted before close of the nominations as provided for under section 31 (2) of the electoral process act. However, where a candidate has sought to invoke the provision of article 52(6) of the Republican Constitution, the law requires the cancellation of elections and this calls for fresh nominations for eligible candidates. In this case, Mr Libanda in his letter dated 10th January 2022, has invoked the provision of article 52 of the constitution of Zambia aforesaid,” Nshindano said.

“Given that this is a Constitution provision, the Commission is bound to comply without any discretion to do otherwise. In this regard, the Commission hereby cancels the election for Kabwata Parliamentary by-election pursuant to the said article 52(6) of the Republican Constitution. And we will be conducting fresh nominations for Kabwata Constituency on dates to be advised once the statutory instrument has been finalised. This therefore means that all campaign related activities for Kabwata Constituency have been canceled and will only commence on the date of fresh nominations.”

He added all aspiring candidates in the Kabwata by-election including those that filed their nomination would be required to pay a prescribed nomination fee.

“Let me also mention that however, polls for Liangati and Sonkotwe wards will proceed as scheduled on 20th January. As the law requires fresh nominations in this instance, it entails that all aspiring candidates in the Kabwata Parliamentary by-election including those that had originally filed nominations will be required to pay the prescribed nomination fee. and indeed make resubmission as o’er requirement for nomination procedures. The Commission also recognises that this process may inconvenience stakeholders especially political parties that had successfully fielded candidates as they would be required to file fresh nominations,” he said.

Nshindano said Libanda’s resignation came with unwarranted costs, calling on political parties to scrutinise their candidates.

“Members of the public may also wish to know that the ballot papers for Kabwata Parliamentary by-election have already been printed and are scheduled to arrive tomorrow Tuesday 11th January 2022. The resignation of Mr Libanda comes with unwarranted costs as the already printed ballot papers are a cost that need to be paid for in addition to other electoral activities costs that have been undertaken and already on going. With this, political parties are further called upon to thoroughly scrutinize candidates they intend to field in any election to avoid a waste of resources and other inconveniences caused to the Commission. After the fresh nominations of those eligible candidates, we will proceed to print fresh ballot papers. We will announce to the nation, especially stakeholders how we will proceed with managing ballot papers that are arriving tomorrow,” he said.

Nshindano said there was an urgent need to review electoral laws.

“With the foregoing, stakeholders may note that there is an urgent need to review the electoral laws to enhance the integrity of the electoral process and safeguard scarce public resources that could have otherwise been used for other developmental programs. The Commission working with other stakeholders and this is something that has already been planned for in our 2022 plan, we will soon embark on a thorough review of electoral laws in order to enhance electoral process among other initiatives that we will be introducing especially as we move towards the general elections in 2026,” said Nshindano.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Mulambo Haimbe said such lacunae justified constitutional review.

“There is a precedent already by ECZ in Lusaka Central during 2021. They canceled and we all filed fresh nominations. Such are lacunae that justify Constitutional review. But ECZ is independent so we can’t interfere with their operations. It’s up to the parties to take it up with Courts if at all,” said Haimbe in an interview.