|ZAMBIAN OPPOSITION MEETS CHIEF JUSTICE OVER VOTING DELAYS.
Updated: 30 December 2001
by By Kondwani Chirambo and Hugh McCullum in Lusaka
As Zambia's prolonged vote counting process crawled towards its inevitable conclusion, six opposition political leaders were granted a meeting with Chief Justice Matthew Ngulube Sunday morning to present him with a letter describing their concerns with the country's electoral process.
Outside the venerable red brick Supreme Court, crowds of highly charged supporters shouted and danced, blocking traffic and roaring their support for the opposition, now united against perceived "anomalies and flaws" in the vote-counting process and other election problems which were blamed on the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Armed soldiers ringed the main entrances and walls but there were no incidents.
Vote-rigging was alleged by thousands outside the courthouse along with chants of "we won the vote" by supporters of six opposition presidential candidates who were to meet the chief justice and who, by law, is also the country's chief returning officer. He will announce the official results when they are completed, likely sometime Monday.
After the meeting the six slipped away from the huge crowd of supporters and journalists by another exit, leaving a spokesperson to try and calm the excited and angry crowd with a simple statement: "The chief justice has taken note of their concerns and will look into the legalities of their allegations."
The six, showing rare solidarity, were: Lt-General Christon Tembo, Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD); Brig-General Godfrey Miyanda, Heritage Party (HP); Nevers Mumba, National Citizens Coalition (NCC); Tilyenji Kaunda, United National Independence Party (UNIP); Anderson Mazoka, United Party for National Development (UPND); and Benjamin Mwila, Zambia Republican Party (ZRP). Four smaller opposition parties were not included.
The election process has gone extremely slowly. By mid-afternoon Sunday, there were still more than a million votes to be counted. The presidential race is very tight between Levy Mwanawasa for the MMD and Mazoka of UPND. With 93 of 150 constituencies reported, Mazoka leads by 9,000 votes. The simple majority system is being used which means the election could be won by a single vote.
As the delays stretched for hours into days, highly partisan supporters of UPND and, to a lesser extent all opposition parties became increasingly restive, especially after Mazoka declared early Saturday that he was the winner and would not accept any other result. Late that day the six parties met and announced they were seeking an audience with the chief justice to present him with a letter asking that he postpone the inauguration of the new president until the anomalies and flaws were dealt with. The inauguration and swearing-in by the chief justice, originally to have been held today, was earlier postponed until Wednesday by a cabinet functionary.
As the tension mounted through Saturday and Sunday, some partisans trashed the ECZ's results monitoring centre in Mulungushi International Conference Centre and the facility was closed. It was then reopened with soldiers guarding the computerized centre, which ran far behind the counting results achieved by various party agents.
By the time the six opposition leaders met the media last evening at a local hotel, wiser heads prevailed and the meeting the chief justice was sought and granted. On Sunday morning teargas-toting soldiers surrounded the high fences of the Supreme Court as the crowds grew increasingly in size and volume. However, once it was known the six leaders had left by another route, the crowds slowly dispersed, still grumbling and one lorry-load shrieked abuse as it drove around outside the ECZ headquarters which is also guarded by soldiers. The crowd later dispersed.
Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, who increasingly has shown his influence as elder statesman after ruling Zambia for 27 years, called publicly to both opposition leaders and voters alike "to be very cool and calm." He said he was following the events since voting day with "a very heavy heart, this is a difficult and trying time."
Kaunda who campaigned for his UNIP party in the latter days of the campaign, said he had been receiving many calls from across the country about the conduct of the elections. "From what I have been told and from my own observations there seem to be many loopholes in the way we have conducted these elections."
The out-going president, Frederick Chiluba, who left Lusaka for Ndola, has not been publicly heard from since a farewell interview on state television 27 December. Mwanawasa, his chosen candidate is doing better in the polls than expected, but has also been silent during the furore. He was reviled outside the Supreme Court by the bellicose crowd, several youths tossing cabbages around, symbolizing what some politicians said during the campaign, that a traffic accident some years ago had left him "almost a vegetable."
Inevitably the long delays in vote counting and many allegations of tampering with ballots and ballot boxes have taken on a life of their own and there are a number of reports that ballot boxes, especially, have been tampered with. However, exhausted officials at the ECZ said that any reported cases of rigging were being followed up and in some cases reported to police.
They claim the slowness is due to several factors including the addition in this election of civic voting which meant each voter had to cast three distinct ballots - presidential, parliamentary and Local government - followed by three counts. A shortage of trained personnel and a number of logistical problems due to a larger-than-expected turnout were other reasons.
Local monitors verified some of the anomalies and flaws but organizations such as Coalition 2001 and Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) said rigging an election during the counting process was difficult. Both said the ECZ showed an inability to deal with an election of this magnitude and called for major changes in the commission including its complete independence from government.
African and international observers have been cautious about issuing statements until the final official results are verified. The SADC Parliamentary Forum was not expected to issue its statement before Monday although members of the 50 person mission noted concern over delays and logistical problems.
The Carter Center's interim statement commended Zambians for their peaceful conduct and determination on a "very long election day." It was, however critical of the delays at many polling stations due to the late arrival of materials and long queues which emerged caused by each voter taking at least 15 minutes to be processed by officials.
The processing of results was the center's major worry. "Because counting started late in several locations (in some places more than 18 hours after the station opened) many officials faced exhaustion and were not able to adequately discharge their duties."
Tabulation of results at constituency centres delayed transmission of results to ECZ headquarters in Lusaka. "The process was very slow, there was inadequate control over who entered the tabulation area and insufficient transparency. In general the tabulation process was chaotic and insecure." The announcement of results by the state media was also heavily criticized and, said the Carter Center, released results which clearly favoured MMD, despite the fact that there was information available from non-MMD constituencies. This caused voters great anxiety about the apparent lack of transparency in the counting process.
The European Union's 100 observers response was similar to the Carter Center with particular emphasis laid on the ECZ's inability to carry out such a process. The EU, however, said it would be difficult to actually rig the election. (SARDC)
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