The Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL) monitored the 2015 presidential election from a gender perspective in more than 40 districts and has arrived at the conclusion that the election was generally peaceful with all eligible voters casting their ballots freely. ZNWL has been monitoring elections to ensure that female voters and candidates participate equally in the electoral process.
We are pleased to note that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) continues to observe gender balance in the recruitment of electoral officers and security personnel, with women accounting for at least 40% of these officials. ZNWL also observed that a good number of women were contracted to decision making positions of either assistant presiding officer or presiding officers. This is particularly significant because female voters are more likely to confide in female presiding officers if they are faced with a problem.
Many issues have emerged from this election and we will belabour to highlight these issues from a gender perspective with the hope that safe-guards can be put in place before the 2016 election is held.
- Low Voter Turn out
ZNWL did observe that there was low voter turnout of 33% as announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ). This was not impressive, especially that the majority of those that did not turn out to vote were women. This low voter turnout can be attributed to many factors that include the following:
- Hurried manner in which the replacement of voters’ cards was conducted by the commission. Many citizens, especially women, were disenfranchised because they failed to replace their cards due to several reasons which included limited information on the exercise, the short time frame allocated to the exercise, few voters’ replacement centres and lack of resources to travel to the districts where they initially registered in the case of those that had relocated. The ECZ is by law mandated to conduct continuous voter registration. It is our hope that the registration and cleaning up of the voters roll will commence soon and be allocated sufficient resources and time to ensure that all eligible voters are captured.
- Bad weather may have prevented some voters from casting their vote. Whereas it was unavoidable to hold the election in the rainy season as the time for the election is dictated by the constitutional provisions, there is need for the incoming Government to quickly adopt the new constitution which has very progressive recommendations on ascendance to the presidency to prevent the reoccurrence of such a situation.
- Insufficient voter education
The ZNWL is of the view that the ECZ conducted voter education in a hurried manner. Messages on voting which were mainly relayed through the print and electronic media did not reach most citizens especially those in rural areas. ZNWL also observed that most of the voters who were assisted were women. This is can be attributed to the high levels of illiteracy amongst women. It has always been our view that the ECZ should implement voter education on an on-going basis owing to low literacy levels in the country. Assisted voting does not usually guarantee that the wish of the voter will be respected and takes away the very essence of a secret ballot.
We also received with sadness the news that electoral officers were directing women with nail varnish on their nails to remove the varnish or surrender their right to vote which led to some women using unsterile instruments to remove the nail varnish and only a few women who insisted like FDD President Edith Nawakwi were allowed to vote. We believe that this situation could have been avoided had there been sufficient information targeted specifically at the female voters. We however commend the ECZ for giving priority to expectant mothers and the elderly.
- Capacity of ECZ officials
We observed that some electoral officials did not have sufficient knowledge on election procedure and laws. In certain cases some senior citizens who were in possession of the old pink national registration card were barred from voting by some uninformed election officials. This was the case at Chainda Polling station in Lusaka where a senior citizen was turned away because he was in possession the old pink national registration card. This was a very unfortunate occurrence especially that this senior citizen braved the rains to exercise their right.
We therefore recommend that the electoral commission of Zambia (ECZ) ensure that only people who are well versed with the procedures of conducting an election and are acquainted with the Electoral Act be contracted as officials during elections.
- Sole female candidate.
ZNWL was pleased to note that the only female candidate Edith Nawakwi conducted issue based campaigns and no allegation of breach of the electoral act was raised against her or her political party. It is however unfortunate that she was the only woman who contested the presidency. It is our hope that more women will rise to the challenge in 2016 and contest at local government, parliamentary and presidential level. We also observed biased media coverage by both the public and private media. Ms. Nawakwi was not given adequate, objective and fair coverage to which she complained officially. The media also neglected to highlight issues affecting women.
We applaud ECZ under the leadership of her ladyship Justice Irene Mambilima for their efforts in ensuring that the election was conducted within the confines of the electoral act. We urge ECZ to use this election as a test case for 2016 and address all the existing gaps if the next election is to be free and fair.
We further applaud the Zambia Police under the leadership of Inspector General Stella Libongani for the professional conduct of the Police throughout this election period.
The ZNWL strongly recommends that the new President of Zambia considers as a matter of urgency, the enactment of the new constitution as this is the only sure way that the many challenges currently being faced by the ECZ can be addressed.
We applaud the Zambian people for continuing to uphold the peace that the nation has enjoyed for the past 50 years and urge them to refuse to be used as tools of violence in the aftermath of this election.