The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) says sending political party representatives to observe the printing of ballot papers is an unnecessary cost. According to Mr Patrick Nshindano, the Chief Electoral Officer, political parties and other stakeholders who insist that they want to verify the ballot papers in Dubai will have to do so at their own cost.

“In 2016, we had ferried political parties to go and verify the ballot paper printing. This time around, this will not happen. That is the cost we are going to avoid. If political parties want to come through and verify, they will be more than free to join at their own cost. But as the Commission, we will not be able to incur those costs, obviously, because it is a cost unwarranted for and the country, as you know it is quite tight in terms of fiscal space that we have so we need to be prudent in terms of how we manage resources,” said Mr Nshindano.

Echoing this statement, Chief Government Spokesperson, Honourable Dora Siliya, said Zambia’s elections are credible, but the country needs good losers.

“Government has to think that, ‘should we take the money from UTH to fly five people to go and see ballot papers being printed?’ We have a lot of ways to ensure that our elections are credible and that is why we have continued to have credible elections in this country. We just need to have good losers,” said Honourable Siliya.

We are worried that the Electoral Commission has made this declaration without making any effort to solicit funding from cooperating partners. We know that the Commission has always received financial support from the donor community to conduct elections in this country. Not all the money comes from government.

For example, ahead of the 2016 general elections, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with the European Union, DfID UK, and Ireland entered into a cooperative agreement to support the Electoral Commission of Zambia to successfully organize the elections that year. These cooperating partners managed to mobilize about US $10 million. Has the Commission approached these donors to hear if they can assist on this shortfall? We don’t think so. It would appear that money is there, but ECZ doesn’t want to go and get it to fund this undertaking.

As for Honourable Siliya. When a contender goes into a competition looking for a good loser and not fair play, then you must know that there is some unseen advantage, which that contender is relying on. In any game, if one opponent is not worried about the credibility of the referee but the credibility of the losing team, it suggests match-fixing.

Yes, we agree that the Electoral Commission of Zambia is the body entrusted with the responsibility of printing ballot papers in this country, but it does not mean that the institution doesn’t need oversight from stakeholders.

Going by what the ECZ boss and the Chief Government Spokesperson are saying about ballot printing observers in Dubai, it means the next thing they will say is that allowing election observers on the polling day is also unnecessary because ECZ is a credible institution that must be trusted.

Now, our argument is that you cannot have a good loser in a contest where only one of the two competitors has confidence in the referee or adjudicator.

The reason why Honourable Dora Siliya’s MMD was a good loser in the 2011 general election was because the party sent its representatives to monitor the printing of ballot papers in Durban, South Africa. When the printing process was done, Honourable Dora Siliya’s MMD witnessed the transportation of voting materials from Universal Print Group to Zambia, they monitored the distribution of ballots to constituencies and polling stations. As Zambians started trooping to the polling stations on September 20, 2011, Honourable Dora Siliya’s MMD watched the whole process with its electoral monitors, until the counting and tallying of votes was done at the national totalling centre in Lusaka.

So, when Justice Irene Mambilima declared that Honourable Dora Siliya’s MMD had lost the general election, there was no excuse or suspicion that they could point at. They watched the whole process as they were being conquered. This is why there was a good loser of elections in 2011. This good loser of elections had no basis for petitioning the results because the electoral process was done under their watch.

Now, Honourable Dora Siliya’s Patriotic Front should not be arrogant by rubbishing the concerns of their competitors. Maybe we should remind our readers that when the Electoral Commission of Zambia under Honourable Dora Siliya’s MMD decided to award the ballot printing tender to Universal Print Group of South Africa in 2011, Honourable Dora Siliya’s Patriotic Front protested vehemently. They claimed that the Electoral Commission did not consult stakeholders before awarding this contract.

This is exactly what the opposition political parties are saying today. The Electoral Commission of Zambia under Honourable Siliya’s PF has picked the Dubai company to print ballot papers without consulting stakeholders. And now they are saying it is not necessary to send observers from the opposition. How can there be a good loser of elections under such conditions?

It must be noted that Mr Nshindano’s Electoral Commission of Zambia has no capacity to stop top government officials who are members of the ruling party from visiting the site where ballot papers are printed. So, in essence, only the opposition will be in the dark over what will be happening in Dubai. This is not fair!

And let’s face it: under the current state of the economy, only the Patriotic Front has money to sponsor any number of observers to Dubai. In this case, it ceases to be a transparent process, which creates a level-playing field; it now becomes a competition for the rich and well connected parties. This decision is inconsiderate to political parties that have no access to the Treasury or to proceeds of corruption.

So, Honourable Siliya must know that there will definitely be no good loser of elections next year if this critical part of the electoral process will only be monitored by ECZ officials and PF Central Committee members.