Commonwealth election observers have offered recommendations for strengthening Zambia’s electoral processes and political environment, in a report published today.
The 17-person Commonwealth Observer Group which was present for Zambia’s 11 August 2016 elections was led by the former President of Tanzania, Dr Jakaya Kikwete.
The independent group concluded that while the voting and counting process at the polling stations was conducted in a “credible, peaceful, inclusive and orderly manner”, there were “shortcomings” particularly in the pre-election and results phases.
In the foreword to the report, Dr Kikwete on behalf of the observer team “commends the people of Zambia for the peaceful and orderly manner in which they exercised their franchise on election day.”
The Commonwealth Observer Group however urges “further strides towards deepening democracy in Zambia in the spirit of peace, unity and political tolerance. This is the Zambian and the Commonwealth way.”
The observers expressed concern about the marked escalation of violence compared to previous elections, the polarisation of issues on the basis of ethnicity rather than policy, and allegations of misuse of the Public Order Act in a manner that may have prevented some candidates from freely campaigning earlier in the process.
The report provides practical recommendations, from greater civic education to actions to improve inclusivity and access particularly for disadvantaged groups. It backs measures to implement the country’s Gender Equity and Equality Act (2015), “in particular, its progressive provisions on strengthening women’s political participation and ensuring gender equality in decision-making processes.”
The observers “urge the Government of Zambia, political parties, the legislature, the electoral commission, and all relevant stakeholders to play their part in the implementation of the prescribed measures under this Act, to address the low representation of women as political leaders in Zambia, in subsequent elections.”
The report adds: “To ensure fairness and equal access, a review of the constituency boundaries should be undertaken in an inclusive, non-partisan and transparent process, with a view to standardising the numbers of voters across constituencies to ensure fair and equal representation.”
The report has been sent to the government, the Electoral Commission, the leader of the opposition and other political parties, and Commonwealth member governments.