|ELECTIONEERING CONTINUES THROUGH CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES
Updated: 25 December 2001
by By HUGH McCULLUM in LUSAKA
While most Zambians settled into Christmas Day festivities with family and friends, those most concerned with the country's presidential, parliamentary and local government elections to be held Wednesday, kept right on working.
Politicians held smaller local rallies, press conferences and took to the airwaves in last-minute attempts to change the minds of the 18 percent of the 2.6 million registered voters considered undecided.
Those charged with the monitoring, observing and running of the election machinery were getting their people out the nine provinces and 5,509 polling stations, many of them in rural areas difficult to access in the rainy season.
The campaign has been largely peaceful and calm, despite the bitter name-calling and allegations of incompetence and corruption. Last-minute charges of massive vote-rigging on election day and during the counting process by the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) were largely dismissed by Zambian election support coalitions and international observers alike.
"It is difficult to rig an election on voting day, there are just too many people around the polling stations from polling agents to election officials. There are any number of checks and balances, too many blocks in place," said Michael Meadowcroft, chief observer for the European Union Election Observation Mission who has observed some 20 elections around the world. The EU mission has 100 observers in Zambia, operational staff have been around since last August.
But the campaign was another story with local and international observers agreeing that the playing field for the 11 presidential candidates and the parties they lead had been far from level.
Coalition 2001, a Zambian civic organization fighting for "genuine free and fair elections", leveled a series of charges against the state media, government officials, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), the ruling party and even President Frederick Chiluba who is not a candidate this time round.
Coalition 2001 will have some 12,000 election monitors in the field which is half the number it claims it needs. Churches and other Zambian civic organizations will also monitor the polls.
"There has been a deliberate ploy in place for much of the year to disenfranchise the voters, especially those in the rural areas of this vast country and the ruling party is the only institution that has the resources to get out there in the areas where heavy rains have rendered the situation impassable," said the coalition's spokesperson, Ngande Mwanajiti.
He said the dates set by Chiluba as his constitutional right, were deliberately chosen for the festive Christmas season and in the midst of annual rains to make it as difficult as possible for voters to go to the polls. "It is simply absurd but also cunning, since MMD was able to start campaigning long before anyone else knew the dates which were left as late as legally possible."
The state media - radio, television and two daily newspapers -- "lamentably failed to provide anything like equitable coverage to all parties. Only MMD had unfettered access to the public media which is supported by taxpayers' money," Mwanajiti said.
The coalition also demanded that accountability for their inaction against charges of corruption and criminal behaviour be demanded after the election from the police service and other law enforcement agencies who were also accused of ignoring criminal actions and corrupt practices by candidates and their agents.
The ECZ came in for perhaps the heaviest criticism, facing charges of incompetence, chaotic administration and "illegitimate behaviour."
Since the last election in 1996 the commission has had five years to prepare for the third Multi-party election. "What have they done? Even today they are struggling with tiny administrative details. The registration of voters was disastrous and the result is voter apathy. Managing an election is more than simply issuing press releases and getting T-shirts printed. The president's hand is evident in many appointments including that of the chairperson and rest of the staff lack the most minimal of technical skills," said Mwanajiti, in a scathing indictment.
The coalition referred back to the elections of 1991 called by then President Kenneth Kaunda as a "the standard of electoral acceptability." The courts have ruled that the ECZ is an arm of government. "It therefore cannot be independent and that makes its standards for free and fair elections impossible."
There were allegations of insulting and slanderous behaviour by politicians from most parties, outright vote-buying, lack of logistical and infrastructural support, the use of food in hungry areas and fertilizers for small scale farmers and a host of other corrupt practices detailed by Coalition 2001.
While perhaps more temperate in their use of language, the international observers generally agreed. The Carter Center headed by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter issued a statement expressing concern about "voter apathy and the low level of citizen participation, perceptions of the misuse of state resources and unequal access to broadcast media in the electoral process."
The Carter Center has representatives in nine provinces and a delegation of 35 headed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former head of state of Nigeria; former Benin President Nicephore Soglo and former Tanzanian Prime Minister Joseph Wariobo.
The SADC Parliamentary Forum has some 50 observers from the region in Zambia spread out across the country. The observation mission is headed by Ms. Ntlhoi Motsamai, Speaker of the Parliament of Lesotho. Her deputy is Elia Kaiyamo and Member of Parliament (MP) in Namibia's national assembly.
SADC PF has been in Zambia since 11 December observing all key aspects of the tripartite elections met with representatives of all sectors of society and is working co-operatively with the EU and the Carter Center. The Commonwealth has a small observer mission of two.
Zambia's meteorological department has issued a cautiously optimistic forecast of diminished rains for election day but let itself off the hook by saying that in a country as large as Zambia different weather patterns can prevail. (SARDC)
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