The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) says political violence, if not addressed immediately, has the potential to undermine the electoral process. The Commission, in fact, admits that its appeal to end political violence has failed to yield any positive fruits.

Margaret CHIMANSE: “Political violence has the potential to undermine the electoral process, if not addressed immediately. The Commission hopes that in the wake of the country’s democratic dispensation, political parties can gain maturity by participating in elections without exhibiting acts of violence. The Commission notes with regret the violence that occurred during the campaigns in Kaoma, Western Province yesterday (Sunday), October 6, 2019. The occurrence of the violence in Kaoma shows that appeals by the Commission to end political violence have not yielded any results, and the perpetuation of political violence and the loss of life have regrettably had an impact on the credibility of elections. The Commission, therefore, strongly condemns the two political parties, the Patriotic Front and the United Party for National Development, which have been cited in the press statement by the police command as being responsible for the violence.”

We consider this statement from the spokesperson of the Elections body as failure to respond to an indictment slapped on them. It is a shame that the Electoral Commission of Zambia can publicly declare this impotence to decisively deal with perpetrators of political violence.

Why do we say this? On May 6, 2018, the same mouth that gave the statement above was bragging about the powers that the Electoral Commission of Zambia has over regulating campaign conduct among political players. We recall madam Chimanse telling the media that: “The Electoral Act and the Electoral Code of Conduct both empower the Commission to suspend all campaigns and disqualify candidates for political parties that are found wanting in perpetrating violence.”

This year on March 26, again, madam Chimanse told the public that the Electoral Commission of Zambia would not tolerate political parties and candidates perpetuating violence, saying they risked being barred from participating in elections. She said: “The Commission will no longer tolerate violent parties or candidates and individuals from fueling violence in the country. The Commission will heed Vice-President Inonge Wina’s call for the Commission to use powers vested in it to ban candidates that promote political violence.”

Successive ECZ officials in charge of media relations have sung this song for many years, yet people have continued to die during campaigns. When we asked why the Commission has never expelled any party from participating in elections on grounds of political violence, we were told that it is hard to know who is responsible for the violence. “You cannot just disqualify a candidate based on mere accusations; there are cases where members of one political party are using regalia for another political party to engage in violence, so you cannot just disqualify,” we were told.

But here we are! The Electoral Commission is giving us a narrative of what transpired in Kaoma as verified by police. The names of the individual culprits are there; the political parties involved have been identified; a death has occurred. What is ECZ waiting for? Why did they fail to disqualify the candidates of the erring political parties in the Kaoma Council Chairperson by-election?

Once again, this is failure by the Electoral Commission to punish electoral process offenders. The Commission is weak and has failed to enforce the Electoral Process Act. And this is not the first time that they have shown us how weak they are. Over the past three presidential elections, their credibility has been questionable.

ECZ must know that as long as political players remain assured that regardless of the bloodshed in the campaigns, their candidate will still participate in the elections, there shall never be peaceful polls. This death in Kaoma could have been avoided if political players had any fear of being disqualified if found wanting.

This Kaoma by-election should have been an opportunity for the ECZ to show Zambians what they do and what they are capable of. But even here, they are unable to instill confidence in the members of the public. It’s a sad situation, very sad development. ECZ expects the political parties to be mature in their conduct, yet the Commission itself is exhibiting immature and myopic conduct. How can there be democracy in the electoral process like this?

We urge the new ECZ director, Mr Patrick Nshindano, to look into this impotence that he has found at the Commission so that he can engage the board to give the institution some teeth. What are laws for if they cannot be enforced? Come on ECZ, wake up! People are dying!