Commonwealth Observer Group head in Zambia, Jakaya Kikwete (centre)

JUST NOW: Commonwealth urges Zambia to quicken announcement of results

The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) in Zambia has issued a preliminary report of their findings, calling for patience and restraint from stakeholders as they await final results while also urging the Electoral Commission of Zambia to expedite the announcement of all verified election results.

The call comes as opposition leader Hakainde Hichelema on Saturday took an early lead over President Edgar Lungu in the country’s closely contested presidential election, according to the results verified and  announced by the electoral commission.

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The August 12 poll turned into a two horse race between President Lungu (64) and Mr Hichelema, a rich businessman popularly known as HH.

The Commonwealth Group’s preliminary statement congratulated Zambians for turning out in significant numbers to exercise their democratic right to vote and holding their sixth multi-party general elections against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results are due to be released by the Zambia Electoral Commission but, speaking on the release of the COG’s interim statement, its Chair, former President of Tanzania, HE Jakaya Kikwete said: “We urge all Zambians, regardless of party affiliation, to exercise patience, tolerance and restraint while the Electoral Commission of Zambia concludes the results processes. We also call upon the Electoral Commission of Zambia to expedite the announcement of all verified election results.”

Results announced on Saturday from 31 of the country‘s 156 constituencies showed the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader ahead with 449,699 votes against the president’s 266,202.

Some of the constituencies where Mr Hichelema was winning were considered to be strongholds of President Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF).

While issuing the statement in a press conference in Lusaka, the Commonwealth Group commended the successful printing of ballot papers, which was monitored by political parties and civil society organisations.

The Commonwealth Group was also impressed by prisoners voting at correctional facilities which is a first in Zambia’s electoral history. These, he said, are significant steps in ensuring greater participation and inclusivity in the electoral process.

Kikwete noted concerns about the secrecy of the ballot. He said: “The process required the recording of the ID number on the counter-foil which contained a serial number also repeated on the ballot paper. There is a danger that this practice may be misused against certain voters.”

On the social media shutdown, the statement said: “The shutting down of social media applications on election day was noted with concern. It restricts freedom of speech and contradicts Zambia’s commitment to the values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter.”

In the run-up to Election Day, the COG met with a broad range of stakeholders including the Electoral Commission, the Coalition for Peaceful Elections in Zambia, political parties, presidential aspirants, representatives of civil society – including women and youth groups – media, the police and other observers.

On election day, the group was deployed across the country, covering nine provinces.

The final report, which will set out the full findings on the process and recommendations in greater detail, will be submitted to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and thereafter shared with the Government of Zambia, the Electoral Commission, political parties and Commonwealth governments before being made public.

Final results, which were initially expected on Friday, have been delayed due to a high voter turnout. Disagreements between the Zambia Electoral Commission and political parties over results in certain constituencies is also said to have contributed to the delay.

President Lungu, who has been in power since 2015, appealed for prayers on social media to stop speculations on the delays in the announcement of results.

“Let us continue praying for our nation, that the peace we have known for so many years will hold, and let us remain hopeful that we will emerge stronger and united as a people after this episode,” he tweeted.

The run-up to the elections to pick a new president and members of the National Assembly was marred by violence between UPND and PF supporters.

On Friday, the PF chairperson for the country’s North-Western Province was killed. 

President Lungu said the elections had not been free and fair in the North-Western Province and some parts of Western and Southern provinces, raising concerns that he might not concede if he loses.

The government was also accused of shutting down social media on Friday.

President Lungu, who succeeded the late Michael Sata, served as Justice and Defence minister under the previous administration.

Under his leadership, the southern African country started choking from colossal debt, runaway inflation, corruption, and a weakening currency.

An Afrobarometer Sustainable Development Goals Scorecard for Zambia released in July showed that “the country is experiencing worsening poverty, hunger, and economic and ethnic inequalities compared to five years ago.”

President Lungu’s government has also been accused of spending indiscipline at a time when the economy is suffering under the weight of a Covid-19 pandemic.

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