THE Electoral Commission of Zambia says it will compile a new electoral register for the 2021 general elections and that everyone has to register afresh.
Meanwhile, Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) director – Information Communication Technology (ICT) Dylan Kasonde says Government Printers is unable to meet the Commission’s technical specifications for printing ballot papers.
In November 2018, ECZ chairperson justice Esau Chulu disclosed that the Commission plans to explore, amongst other initiatives, an online voter registration system to accommodate the technological savvy and those with limited time to visit voter registration centres.
Featuring on ZNBC TV’s Sunday Interview programme, Kasonde explained that: “legislation was passed in 2001, that’s 18 years ago, that the Commission should conduct continuous voter registration.”
He, however, indicated that due to budgetary constraints, the Commission had been unable to undertake continuous voter registration.
“However, in 2005 the Commission made a decision to come up with a permanent register of voters. So, from 2005 that [register] was compiled for the 2006 elections [and] the same was used for the 2008. Then there was registration in 2010 for the 2011 elections. So, we’ve been building on that up to the 2016 elections that we had – we’ve been using that permanent register which we’ve been adding on accordingly,” Kasonde said.
Asked about the ECZ’s plans for voters registration, Kasonde said the plans were that: “we conclude delimitation this year; that is we define the electoral boundaries.”
“Next year we’ll attach voters to those electoral boundaries so that come 2021 they can vote. So, next year the Commission will undertake voter registration and this time around the Commission wants to start a new register altogether,” he noted.
“It will start on a clean slate – we’ll start a new register of voters and particularly for the young ones who are tech-savvy, the Commission has come up with online voter registration. It’s not online from end-to-end but it’s online in that a link will be provided where any citizen, young or those who are tech-savvy, can actually input their details in their own space and time and at the convenient time go to strategic places where the Commission will have registration officers stationed with equipment so that they can go and capture biometrics and then print a card for them.”
He added that the usual mobile registration of voters would still be carried out by the ECZ.
“Besides that, the Commission will still undertake the usual mobile registration of voters and also district registration of voters thereafter to ensure that the young ones who have attained the age of 18 and all citizens who have attained the age of 18 and are in possession of a green National Registration Card can register and indeed cast their vote in 2021,” Kasonde said.
In terms of the date when voters’ registration would begin, Kasonde said the Commission hasn’t set a date yet “but definitely it can’t be in January – that’s the rainy season.”
“So, tentatively the Commission is looking at somewhere around June/July so that in terms of accessibility, we’ll not have so many challenges, especially in the rural areas where we have areas that get flooded,” Kasonde said.
Asked by the programme host Grevazio Zulu to clarify what the issue of having a new electoral register meant, Kasonde stressed that the ECZ would compile a new register of voters.
“Everyone has to register afresh for the 2021 elections. However, if we have a by-election between now and 2021, we’ll fall back on the current register that we have to conduct by-elections that might arise before 2021 general elections. Otherwise, everyone will have to register afresh and a new card will be issued to them for use in the 2021 elections,” Kasonde explained.
“So, the current voters’ register will not be used for the 2021 elections.”
On whether or not it was not going to be easier to just migrate the old voters to the new register, Kasonde responded that: “apparently not!”
“The current register we have was compiled in 2006. In 2010 we migrated to the biometric. So, we’ve learnt lessons over the years and when the Commission came up with that decision to have a totally new register for 2021, a lot of factors were taken into consideration and it’s the most prudent and efficient way of managing our elections,” he said, adding that the current electoral register has 6.6 million voters and was targeting to increase the number to nine million.
“So, we intend to capture about nine million voters out of a population of close to 17.5 million.”
The ECZ, according to Kasonde, would mount an intensive voter registration campaign to engage not only the electorate but also take on board civil society organisations: “that help us in sensitising the people.”
“We realise [that] we cannot do it ourselves. So, we’ll have to engage other stakeholders like CSOs, the faith-based organisations to help us in disseminating information to the electorate and we’ll have to start this in earnest so that as we kick-start the exercise, everyone is well informed,” he said.
“We’ll use all available platforms – social media, the website, community radio stations, public and private media to ensure that this is marketed and sensitised in good time so that ultimately it becomes a success and we attain our target of registering at least nine million people at the end of the exercise.”
Asked about whether there was an anticipation that inmates could vote in the 2021 general elections, Kasonde said the Commission was currently consulting on that aspect.
“What the Commission is currently doing is engaging our neighbouring countries; we have Electoral Commission Forum for SADC countries and indeed other countries outside the [African] continent on how they have managed to implement the voting for prisoners,” Kasonde said.
“We have to look at certain modalities; how do you make political parties campaign in a prison? How do you register voters in a prison? How do you ensure stakeholders are accredited to monitor how elections are going on in a prison? So, these are the modalities the Commission is looking into and hopefully if this is done in earnest, something can be done for 2021, maybe in terms of a pilot and then rolled out countrywide hopefully for the 2026 [general elections].”
On the possibility of Zambians in the diaspora voting in the 2021 general elections, Kasonde said: “we’ve got a large population in the diaspora and now that we’ve dual citizenship, those people are actually allowed to vote.”
“So, the Commission is looking at several ways of how this can be implemented. Most of our SADC countries, in case of Botswana and South Africa, use their embassies as polling stations, even as registration centres,” he indicated.
“So, it’s something that the Commission is exploring but, of course, it has to be validated by the stakeholders to ensure that they are comfortable with these processes so that there is that ownership even as we go forward. So, the Commission is looking at that to see if embassies can be used.”
On how feasible it was to print ballot papers locally, Kasonde said such could be done if at all capacity was available locally.
“The Commission has stringent technical specifications for printing of ballot papers. A ballot paper is a security document; it’s not just any other document that you can print using a laser printer. The Commission will be undertaking an open bidding procurement process under the public procurement Act. Open bidding is the most competitive process that you can ever have,” he highlighted.
“So, for those Zambians who feel they’ve got the capacity to print ballot papers, they will be given a chance to participate in this tender. If at all they are proved to be competent and they price themselves competitively, they might have a chance. But the Commission is not directly looking at someone printing locally – it’s about printing and meeting the requirements of the Commission.”
Kasonde said currently, the Government Printers was: “unable to meet our standards, though we know they are working on enhancing their capacity to make sure they reach that standard.”
“There were also sentiments raised by the University of Zambia that they’ve now come up with a printing department and we’ve got other private printers out there who feel they are equal to the task. So, it will be up to them to prove themselves when the Commission tenders this ballot printing job very soon,” said Kasonde.