Some Zambian nationals have expressed their frustration over their inability to cast their votes during the recently-held national polls held in the country of birth. The Electoral Commission of Zambia does not have any provision for Zambians living abroad to vote. However, those who wished to participate in voting had to travel to Zambia during the voter registration exercise to register and vote where they registered from. The arrangement which prevents Zambians in the diaspora from voting has long been questioned by those living abroad, with many claiming their Government is denying them the right to vote for their leaders.
“Some of us are in Namibia for work and school purposes but we still contribute to the growth of our country by sending money back home. It is not fair that we are sidelined from voting,” said a Zambian national living in Namibia who chose not to be named.
This publication also spoke to several students studying at the University of Namibia who echoed the same sentiments. There are currently more than 500 Zambian students studying at UNAM. “It would have been really nice if one could have been afforded the opportunity to vote because we also have a responsibility to shape the future of our country. After all, when I am done studying, I want to go work in my country,” said a student who also wished to remain anonymous.
In 2010, media reports suggested that the Electoral Commission of Zambia was working towards revising the Electoral Act to enable citizens abroad to vote during elections. ECZ Legal Counsel Eric Kamwi, reportedly said at the time that the commission will opt for the amendment of certain clauses of the Electoral Act if the National Constitutional Conference does not wind up its business in time for the 2011 elections. Some governments have instituted various forms of external voting through absentee postal ballots, proxy voting, and ballot stations in consulates.
A 2007 study by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance surveyed international practices on external voting.
The study report showed that 115 nations and territories allowed their citizens to vote while living abroad. Namibia is one of those countries. While giving a vote of thanks in France during a luncheon held in honour of President Edgar Lungu in France earlier this year, respected Zambian media practitioner Professor Fackson Banda echoed the yearnings of Zambians in the Diaspora among them the call for the possibility of voting.
Banda said: “We would implore your Excellency’s intervention with regard to the right to vote of the Zambian Diaspora. Needless to say, a Diaspora vote will result in a more empowered Dia spora voice. We are alive to the logistical problems that this would entail, but it is such an important feature of democracy that such problems pale into insignificance.” “His Excellency alluded to the fact that, while he fully supports this proposal, he is not sure as to how the opposition politicians will take it. We would urge his Excellency to marshal the same kind of political support as he did to push through the other progressive constitutional provisions referred to above,” Banda said at the time.
Secondly, the process of the development of the Diaspora Policy, particularly taking into account the extensive consultations leading up to it (including the National Consultative Forum for Diaspora Policy Formulation held in Lusaka last year), is unequivocally a laudable effort on your part. We urge your Excellency to continue championing the implementation of this policy by, among other things, ensuring its effective communication to the Zambian Diaspora so that it can provide an enduring framework for engagement. Questions sent to the Zambian High Commission in Namibia last week Tuesday went unanswered. Efforts to get response this week also proved futile as the Commission was not forthcoming.
Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema filed a court petition last week challenging President Edgar Lungu’s re-election at the helm of Africa’s second-largest copper producer, saying the vote was rigged. Lungu and the electoral commission, an independent state agency set up by the constitution, who are among the respondents named in the petition, have rejected Hichilema’s accusation that fraud discredited the Aug. 11 vote. Lungu’s inauguration has been postponed because a rule introduced in January says the winner of a presidential vote cannot be sworn in if the vote is contested in a court, which will have two weeks to decide on such a petition. In the petition, Hichilema, an economist, businessman and an old rival of Lungu, says that the president did not win the election legally as he failed to score more than the number of votes required to be declared the winner.
To win, a presidential candidate must garner 50 percent of the valid votes cast plus at least one additional vote. “The first respondent did not receive more than 50 percent of the total votes cast. The voter register was not credible and its non-availability before the elections compromised the transparency of the electoral process,” the petition says. In the petition, Hichilema demanded a recount, verification and scrutiny of the votes cast at the general election to ascertain the real winner. He also says in the petition that the number of ballots cast in favor of Lungu was inflated by fake, pre-marked ballots, and asked that the court nullify Lungu’s victory. Lungu won 50.35 percent of the vote against 47.63 percent for Hichilema, according to the electoral commission.
Questions sent to the Zambian High Commission in Windhoek We understand that Zambian nationals residing outside Zambia could not vote in the elections because there is no such provision. As Zambia’s country’s chief representative in Namibia, what is your take on such an arrangement? Did the High Commission at any time receive complaints or queries from the Zambian community in Namibia over the current arrangement when it comes to elections?
Zambia is one of the many countries that holds in high regard the principles of democracy, one would therefore expect the Zambian government to have made provisions for thousands of Zambians living abroad to exercise their democratic right and vote for a leader and Government of their choice. Why was this not done? Has this practice always been the case or is it a new practice? If possible, please provide us with figures as to how many Zambian nationals currently reside in Namibia? In your view, do you think there is need for the Zambian Government to make provisions in future national elections for those abroad to be able to cast their votes at the country’s respective diplomatic missions abroad?
Any additional comments on this topic will be welcomed.