Frustration over slow vote count for Zambia polls
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Delays in delivering the results of the Zambian presidential election caused tempers to flare after partial results were issued late on Saturday morning, as political parties said they were “tired” of not receiving results, or answers to alleged malfeasance.
The race is tight between President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) ruling party and his main contender Hakainde Hichilema, the head of the UPND opposition. By Saturday evening, after more than 48 hours, only 42 out of 156 constituencies had been announced.
“How valid are these elections if we cannot verify the results? It’s a mandatory provision of the law that this document be facilitated to all the stakeholders,” said opposition UPND lawyer Martha Mushipe during the question session with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) after the vote tallies for eight constituencies were announced.
She was referring to the “Gen 12” form that political party agents were to sign and confirm at the polling station. “If this document is not facilitated, how credible are these elections?” she asked.
The official Gen 12 document is key for political parties to carry out their own observation of the count, using parallel voter tabulation (PVT). A form shortage at Lusaka polling stations meant that some party officials were taking photos of forms with the results, instead of receiving an official copy.
Although various political parties have brought forth a number of grievances since Zambia voted in the general elections on Thursday, the issue of the Gen 12 forms has been brought up repeatedly. The Electoral Commission of Zambia on Saturday reiterated that they were looking into the matter.
The detention of Samuel Chavula is also generating questions from the opposition. Chavula, who had accreditation to get into the heavily-guarded Mulungushi International Conference Centre was found in a verification computer room by police. He was arrested on Friday for allegedly attempting to tamper with the computers that were tallying the results. Local media say Chavula is an employee of PF Deputy Chairperson Kelvin Fube Bwalya.
Chavula remains in police custody and the ECZ did not have an update when asked about the case.
Free and Fair?
29 out of 156 constituencies were announced by Saturday afternoon and, on the other side of the capital, the 10 various international electoral observers presented their preliminary reports on the observations of the elections.
“The African Union Election Observation Mission commends the Electoral Commission of Zambia for measures undertaken to enhance the integrity and credibility of the electoral process,” said Goodluck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria and the head of the AUEOM.
Most of the observer missions had similar observations, noting a large amount of women voters, a peaceful and robust turnout but also a lack of unbiased media coverage.
“Our overall conclusion is that the voting, closing and counting process at the polling stations on 11 August, was credible and transparent,” said Jakaya Kikwete, the former president of Tanzania and the head of the Commonwealth observer mission.
But in addressing a number of the heads of observer missions, the sole female presidential candidate, Edith Nawakwi, spoke about a lack of transparency in the aftermath of the elections. She brought up the issue of the Gen 12 papers, describing them as the “only primary source record” and said they were not being properly provided.
There were some variations to observers’ statements. Italian Member of the European Parliament and the head of the European Union Observer Mission Cécile Kyenge told reporters that “free and fair is an expression of perfection.” She called the free and fair label “not a yes or no question for such a complex process.”
Although the ECZ initially said all results would be released within 48 hours “more or less”, the slow pace of the presidential results has many questioning the delay and the lack of answers to their questions.
“We are tired of people stealing elections whilst we’re watching. We are tired,” said opposition UPND lawyer Mushipe.