GOVERNMENT’S decision to introduce a Bill which raises the profile of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) in line with the new Constitution and also gives the electoral body some teeth to bite offenders is a welcome move.
Zambians need a truly independent ECZ and the introduction of penalties for those trying to influence its day to day decisions carries some weight of autonomy.
Over the years, the ECZ has suffered bullying from all and sundry, sometimes over matters the ‘‘assailants’’ have little understanding of.
It is not uncommon to see self-confessed elections experts and stakeholders taking turns advancing their demands over whatever the ECZ intends to do, whether it is delimitation, registration of voters or printing of ballot papers.
This is despite the stakeholders knowing that the ECZ follows its Act in its day to day operations.
Take the printing of ballot papers for example. Is it not by law that Government institutions follow the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) in arriving at awarding of tenders?
That tenders should be publicly advertised before bids are received for scrutiny?
Despite all those processes, the self-proclaimed election experts only come alive at the end of the process.
They overlook the public advertisements and only voice out their concerns when a tender is about to be awarded.
This is the confusion that the proposed law intends to cure.
This is not to forbid Zambians from having a role in the operations of the electoral body.
Zambians have every right to keep an eye on the ECZ and advise when the need arises.
The ECZ, although a sensitive institution of governance, is so important that it does not only decide the political fate of the country but also sets the governance tone of the country after elections.
Overlooking excesses of this electoral body would have a telling effect on our choice of electing leaders.
What Zambians should welcome, however, with the introduction of the proposed law is some level of independence that will come with its enactment.
Influencing and coercing the ECZ will be unlawful and punishable for those who have the appetite and propensity to deliberately misinform the public about the workings of the electoral body.
The ECZ together with its staff often become victims of ridicule, threats and unwarranted attacks from political players.
There has never been an election that ECZ has presided over without being attacked or accused of tampering with the outcome of the results.
The printing of ballot papers in South Africa for the 2011 general elections was such a controversial issue that the Patriotic Front (PF) in the opposition at the time threatened that it was not going to accept the results.
And when the final results were announced and it was the PF that had emerged victorious, the elections were suddenly free, fair and transparent and there was no apology over the baseless accusations.
It is our hope that should the Bill go through, the ECZ would have grown teeth to bite and become a true autonomous electoral body.