THE demand by a consortium of Civil Society Organisations for the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to implement the continuous voter registration has yielded results, and we must be all proud of this achievement. Earlier this year, Chapter One Foundation, ActionAid, Alliance for Community Action, CTPD, Council of Churches, GEARS, Transparency International and others, demanded that potential voters should have the right to register at any time of the year. This was a progressive demand and we are glad that it has finally been achieved.
Voter registration is intended to ensure that everyone entitled to vote can do so. It is also intended to prevent ineligible persons from voting, and to guard against multiple voting by the same individual. The accuracy of the voter register is a key element in ensuring that all qualified constituents can enjoy the right to vote. Therefore, the voter registration systems should be designed to ensure that no one is indirectly disadvantaged or disenfranchised, as can easily happen if procedures are not carefully planned and implemented.
Zambians who are eligible to obtain a National Registration Card must be able to obtain one on any working day. When we have continuous voter registration, we will not have to worry about foreigners obtaining last minute voters’ cards under the facilitation of crooked politicians. The haste to register voters under a restricted period actually posed a national security risk.
When politicians are governing a country, we often remind them that power ultimately belongs to the people. We caution politicians to exercise the authority of their offices, bearing in mind that a time will come when they will be answerable to the citizens. Here in Zambia, every five years, the people gather on one big day to judge the performance of the sitting government and then decide whom to give a fresh mandate to rule.
But there is one condition that the people have to satisfy before they can have that power to judge the performance of the sitting government or to decide who to give the mandate to take charge of the country’s leadership. This condition is simply that an eligible citizen must register to vote. Our people need to engage with the Electoral Commission of Zambia officials and be counted. This exercise starts today, thanks to the continuous voter registration exercise that the Commission has embarked on.
A democracy is worthless if the people don’t participate in the electoral process. The road to 2026 starts with the registration process. All the hullabaloo about power belonging to the people is useless if you do not register to vote. Citizens who are living in a free world, in a democracy have the power to dictate how they must be governed, how their government leaders must behave. They have the power to discipline non-performing leaders by voting them out of office and putting in new office bearers. At the same time, it is the responsibility of citizens to keep a performing government in power, and therefore, those who feel the current government is on the right track must register to keep their leaders in office. This is an opportunity for people to rule themselves by making sure that they elect people who represent their interests. But to do this, one needs to first register to vote.
For many years we have been calling on the Electoral Commission to implement continuous voter registration, and now that the first phase of this programme is up and running, those in the districts where the exercise is taking place must find time to engage in this preparatory process of a very important civic duty. We are also calling on political parties and leaders to persuade their followers to take interest in this exercise. This is the first step to election victory. In a democracy, your vote is your voice and your voice is your vote.
The only advice we have for the commission is that the continuous voter registration exercise must be made effectively available online. Last year, this did not serve its purpose in our view, because many registrations officers were struggling to access the data that was uploaded on the website. They were complaining that they didn’t have network. This was mostly prevalent among registration officers operating in the rural areas. The Commission must upgrade its online voter registration system as this has the potential to register more voters and faster than the physical exercise from designated centres.