VICE-President Inonge Wina says there is no modality for inmates to take part in the 2021 general elections, and that the law is currently being reviewed to incorporate political activities at correctional facilities. When Monze UPND member of parliament, Jack Mwiimbu, asked her to explain the modalities that were put in place to facilitate the participation of inmates in the 2021 general elections and whether those modalities allowed political parties to access correctional facilities and campaign, Vice-President Wina said there was a possibility that political parties would not be allowed to enter correctional facilities.
“The Zambia Correctional Service, working with the Electoral Commission of Zambia and stakeholders, have undertaken a mapping exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to collect data on how many prisoners are in possession of National Registration Cards and Voter Registration Cards. The Law is being reviewed to incorporate the voting of inmates. Once the law is amended, it will spell out the rules and regulations that will govern and operationalise the election system with regard to voting by inmates. For now, the PF have not been engaged and other political parties have not been engaged to inform us of how to go about this situation. I believe when these measures have been considered and finalised, the modalities will be given to the relevant political parties so that they can start their work in the prisons or we may not be allowed to go in those centres. We do not know yet,” said Vice-President Wina.
First of all, if political parties will not be granted access to campaign in prisons, then the whole exercise defeats the essence of democracy. It is not democratically logical to ask citizens who have very little or no knowledge at all about what is obtaining beyond the confines of their incarceration, to elect political office bearers. On what basis will they decide who should lead the country? How do you vote for a leader whom you have never seen? How do you elect someone whom you have never talked to?
Secondly, allowing political parties to campaign in prisons is not the biggest problem that the Electoral Commission of Zambia is going to face. The Vice-President told Parliament that there is an ongoing mapping exercise to ascertain how many inmates are eligible to vote and how many have voters’ cards. ECZ has just told us that the old voters cards will be of no use in 2021, so why are they counting how many prisoners have voters’ cards? Then ECZ has also told us that the pre-voter registration is key in one’s eligibility to vote in 2021, and that exercise ends on November 6, 2020. How many prisoners have access to the Internet to take part in this exercise?
Thirdly, let’s assume that the prisoners manage to register as voters and the political parties have been allowed to go in and campaign, where will the prisoners vote from? What happens to prisoners who registered from one correctional facility and have since been transferred to another facility? Will they be transported to go and vote? What about those inmates who will have served their sentences by August 2021 and those who will have been pardoned before the polling day? Will they be required to go back into prison facilities to vote?
These questions must be answered before we even discuss the campaign modality for political parties. These are security facilities, and if handled carelessly, the whole electoral process may create room for unfortunate incidences that may endanger the State and the successful hosting of a fair and transparent election. The state must not rush the 2021 prison votes. If the ruling party is not happy about this provision for prisoners to vote and the opposition is equally not in support, then the Prisons Care and Counseling Association must be made to understand that we simply don’t have the logistical and legal framework for actualizing their demand at this stage. There should be no rush.
An election is not a formality exercise. It is not just the question of having an inclusive process where every citizen exercises his or her civic right. In a democracy, an election process is supposed to conform to set standards. When we decide to amend the laws that govern elections, we must never lose the principles of democracy in the process. We must think about what we are trying to achieve. Is it for the common good of society? If we see that adjusting the Electoral Act may actually bring about public apprehension and lead the country into chaos, we must halt the amendment until such a time when all stakeholders will be satisfied with the modalities in place.