Sunday, 21 September 2014

FODEP Says Lack Of Continuous Voter Registration Causing Apathy

MacDonald Chipenzi

Dear Colleagues,

Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) monitored the just ended parliamentary by-elections in the five (5) constituencies by placing both stationed and roving monitors in selected polling stations.  FODEP is happy to present to you its observations and analysis of the just ended by-elections.

From the onset, FODEP would like to congratulate the ruling PF, UPND and MMD for scooping three (3) and one apiece respectively out of the five parliament by-elections held on 11th September 2014 and the peaceful, disciplined environment in which the elections were held. We hope the winners will celebrate responsibly while the losers prepare for themselves for 2016.  We want to further commend all political parties, their supporters and all stakeholders in the electoral process for ensuring that the just ended by-elections proceeded on well, peacefully and orderly.

The management and administration of the electoral process by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) also deserves commendation. We will be failing in our duty too if we do not recognize and appreciate the efforts Zambia Police Force put in maintaining law and order throughout the election process. To all, we say well done and further encourage them to continue cherishing peaceful means of conflict resolution in future elections.

FODEP however, bemoans the high levels of voter apathy that characterized the by-elections. To illustrate this, Zambezi West with 10,206 voters only 4924 voters cast their votes representing 48.2% the highest turn out in this round of by-elections. Kasenengwa with 41, 795 had 15,141 voters voting representing 36.2% turnout. Vubwi with 18,084 registered voters had only about 6,693 voters casting their votes representing 37.0% while Solwezi Central with 52,900 voters only had about 10,403 casting their votes representing 19.67% turnout. Mkushi South in Luano District with 12,793 had only about 4,738 voters casting their vote representing 37.04%. As illustrated above, all the constituencies failed to score 50% voter turnout.

This is a trend that we need to contain before it undermines the 2016 tripartite elections. Lack or limited voter education, distances to the polling stations, disconnect between the elected and electors, poor service delivery e.g. government’s failure to purchase maize through Food Reserve Agency (FRA), fear of precedents of violence and intimidation and un-updated voters’ register were cited as reasons for poor voter turnout in some constituencies.

Nonetheless, the results from the five constituencies show very interesting electoral and political trends. The victories and losses scored were as a result of various variables ranging from political party and candidates’ strengths and popularities respectively to urban-rural divide and desire to be close the party in power. More importantly though about these by-elections is the fact that they have “given birth” to three (3) women parliamentarians, increasing the percentage of women in the House. They have sent a strong signal that women can compete and win even competitive electoral contests and defeat their menfolk.

FODEP further noted the regional voting pattern which was conspicuously reflected out of these five by-elections. For instance, UPND was either second to the ruling party or first in areas where it is traditionally strong so is the MMD while PF has performed well in areas where it is also traditionally strong and took advantage of the incumbency in other areas to dilute and usurp opposition strength in their strongholds. 

FODEP’s analysis shows that Solwezi Central and Kasenengwa constituencies both located in an urban set-up were won by the opposition while Mkushi South, Vubwi and Zambezi West which are rural constituencies were scooped by the ruling party. This entails that the rural vote is favoring the party in power while the urban vote which helped the current party assume power is steadily being eroded. 

Another interesting aspect is that the election results were in favour of the ruling party in both constituencies where new districts have been declared such as Vubwi and Mkushi South (Luano District). In Luano District under Mkushi South Constituency voters could also been showing appreciation to the government for killing the Miloni Brothers who terrorized them for years. In Zambezi West, the overstaying of the losing candidate for the UPND could have caused despondence among voters who opted for a change.

It is an undeniable fact that the electoral results show that PF is making inroads in opposition strongholds as evidenced in Vubwi, Kasenengwa, Solwezi, Mkushi and Zambezi West constituencies partly because some of the constituencies have been associated with the ruling parties for some time except that 2011 elections put them on the other side of the coin. The ruling party religious used development projects as a campaign bait such as road construction, communications towers, agriculture marketing, etc. The indiscriminate used of government facilities, resources and the dangling of development projects to constituencies where elections too place by the government ministers who flooded the constituencies with a lot of promises and pledges undermined the freeness and fairness of the vote.

Regardless, the final analysis and cumulatively indicate that the opposition has lost majority in parliament which will now strengthen the “tyranny of the majority syndrome” and the “arrogance of numbers by the ruling party in the House. Resultantly, however, the MMD, which has becoming a political and electoral fishing pond for both PF and UPND, has suffered the greatest loss because all the seats save for one, contested belonged to it but only retained one. The UPND despite grabbing a seat from MMD i.e. Solwezi Central, has lost its own seat to the ruling party -Zambezi West. Therefore, Zambia is back to the pre-2001 elections where parliament was one party dominated. This situation will undermine democratic accountability in Zambia due to its weakened oversight role. The situation may also have a negative implication on the constitution making process as government may arrogantly opt for a constitutional amendment now that it has increased its numbers in parliament.

Further implication of the electoral results is that Zambia’s “electoral weather” is not static but unpredictable and defeats political parties’ argument that their popularity in 2011 remains strong throughout a 5-year electoral cycle in areas they won elections.  As can be observed some political parties are losing grip of their constituencies at very alarming rate while others are gaining ground 3 years since 2011. There is need for serious reflection and packaging of their messages or indeed relooking at the popularity and caliber of the candidates being adopted. Zambians political system should not be blind to the dangers of allowing weakened opposition in parliamentary as it will undermine parliamentary democracy and accountability.

Finally, FODEP is happy with the manner the Commission transparently managed the just ended election process. However, though the legal framework mandates the Commission to announce the results within 48hrs, it is worrying that, in the midst of high levels of apathy, electoral results are taking long to be released like in situation of high voter turn-out. It is for this reason that FODEP supports the introduction of the electronic result transmission system with the hope that it will resolve the issue of result delayed release of elections results and appeals to all stakeholders to embrace the system.

In conclusion, the just ended parliamentary elections were transparent. However, there is need to continue working towards improving the level playing field on media coverage, use of government resources and unaccounted for time by ministers who spend much of their time in the campaigns rather than serving the citizens. Their presence in numbers has exploited the process to their advantage. To this end, FODEP calls for an urgent need for electoral reforms ahead of the 2016 tripartite elections.

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