Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where is justice Mambilima on PVT?

Where is justice Mambilima on PVT?
By The Post
Sat 26 Mar. 2011, 04:00 CAT

The position taken by the Law Association of Zambia on the ongoing debate about the use of parallel vote tabulation raises some very interesting questions for Rupiah Banda and his friends.

Rupiah has been on a campaign to criminalise an innocent, if not very necessary, process of vote tabulation which every political party and civil society organisation that has an interest in an election should engage in. It would be foolish for a political party to participate in a national election and yet fail to keep a close tally of results as they are being declared.

This probably has been one of the major failings of political parties in our country. They have failed to mobilise enough human resource to man every polling station to ensure that they follow every result that is declared. Even the MMD as a party, if truth be told, has failed to create the capacity that allows them to monitor the result at every station.

What helps the MMD is that they commandeer public officers, including election officials, and turn them into their election agents. It is a fact that the greater part of our election process is managed by officers from the Ministry of Local Government and Ministry of Home Affairs. The Electoral Commission of Zambia is very small and doesn’t have enough staff of its own to manage elections and therefore relies heavily on staff from these two ministries – some of them strategically placed there long in advance for the purpose of elections.

Against this background, we are not surprised that Rupiah is very jittery about the opposition creating a system that gives them a significantly higher access to election results and information than has been the case in previous elections. Suddenly, the MMD will not be the only party that will monitor trends across the country. There is no wiggle room left for them to do as they please with results as they play around with the emotions of our people. This is what they have done in the past. They have tried to manage the flow of results in a way that has left our people wondering what was happening. It will be difficult for them to do what they have done in the past. In the last election for instance, results from an area as close as Chibombo were so late that one was left wondering what was going on.

Rupiah and his friends seem to forget that our people have developed an entrenched belief that the government always rigs election results. This is an unhealthy development in our country, something that they should be working to change. The only way that this change can be achieved is to ensure that as much information as is practically possible is given to the public.

In other words, there has to be high levels of transparency in the process. It is only in this way that we will begin to mend the damage that has been done to our people’s confidence in the electoral process. It must be a matter of high concern to all of us that election results are made acceptable to everybody, losers and winners alike. The reason for this is simple.

If people stop believing the authenticity of election results, they will lose confidence in democracy as we practice it and find other ways of expressing their opinion about how they are governed. In some countries, this has led to civil war and other types of political conflicts.

We hope that Rupiah and his friends will respect the opinion of the Law Association of Zambia and allow all citizens and other election observers interested in carrying out parallel vote tabulation to do so without hindrance.

This is a welcome advice from the Law Association of Zambia, albeit it being late. This is a matter the Law Association of Zambia should have jumped into very early. We say this because it is important for organisations such as the Law Association of Zambia to enter the debate of such issues in a way that does not begin to suggest that they are weighing the partisan impact of their opinion. The Law Association of Zambia should simply state the law as it is.

Surely, it should not have waited while Rupiah made threats of criminal sanctions repeatedly on a matter that is very straightforward from a legal perspective. Why did they allow Rupiah to make a fool of himself on such a straightforward legal matter? But maybe we also need to question the professional independence of Rupiah’s Attorney General. Where was he when his boss was threatening people with non-existent criminal offences? That said, it is good that the Law Association of Zambia has come out clearly on this matter.

But there is a lesson here that needs to be driven home. Professionals should be professionals. Right should be right and wrong should he wrong. Rupiah is wrong about parallel vote tabulation and so is George Kunda. And when that happens, the people who have a responsibility to the public to tell them what the position is should do so quickly without fear or favour. This issue also falls squarely in the lap of justice Ireen Mambilima, the chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia. Why should she allow the government to issue statements that cause alarm and give people an impression that there is an intention to rig elections? All that justice Mambilima should have done is to come out clearly on this matter as quickly as possible. In this way, the confidence of the public in her office will be raised and we will all benefit from an increased confidence in the election results. Justice Mambilima’s silence on a matter that has generated so much public debate raises questions about the independence of her institutions. The public statements that have been made by the Electoral Commission of Zambia have left all of us wondering what they are trying to say. They seem to be walking on egg shells. Why? If they are independent facilitators or managers of elections, they should be clear about matters that affect the conduct of elections in a credible way so that all of us know where they stand on a particular issue. Trying to walk a tightrope leaves them looking like they will do anything to please those in power, those in control of government.

All those who watch sporting contests know that today almost in every sport, the results are tabulated and beamed on a billboard so that everybody knows what is happening. Cricket, football, rugby, basketball, volleyball, golf and many other sports, scores are tabulated as the contest progresses. Even at the Olympics, the medals are tabulated as the events progress. It is only this type of transparency that will enhance people’s confidence in the results that emerge from our elections.

The Law Association of Zambia has spoken and given guidance; where is the Electoral Commission of Zambia on this matter? Justice Mambilima should explain to the Zambian people why they should trust a secretive management of results which only the Electoral Commission of Zambia and those in power control. We challenge the Electoral Commission of Zambia to clearly state its position on vote tabulation as a method of monitoring election results in Zambia.

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